A very windy WolfTrack Classic sled dog race

WINNER of the eight dog race at the WolfTrack Classic was Brian Bergen. Photo by Ruthanne Fenske

by Tom Coombe -

One new champion was crowned and another was a repeat winner Sunday, as Ely played host to the 11th Annual WolfTrack Classic.
Despite windy conditions that wreaked havoc with the trails and forced spectators to don an extra layer of clothing to stay warm, the sled dog races attracted 40 mushers.
The team led by Brian Bergen won the eight-dog, 50-mile race while Al-Jo Thiart once again guided his team to victory in six-dog, 30-mile jaunt.
Both races started and finished at the softball complex on Ely’s eastern edge, and crowds gathered there early Sunday morning, staying throughout the day.
Bergen, who hails from Sioux Lookout, rebounded after taking second a year ago and topped Anderson, a Ray native who recently won a mid-distance race at the John Beargrease Marathon along the North Shore.
Bergen’s team won in 4:45:16, topping Anderson by just under four minutes.
The tables were turned from the 2018 event, when Anderson won by about two-and-a-half minutes.
Thiart, orginally from Cape Town, South Africa, picked up a second consecutive win in the six-dog event and once again Liz Vanden Toorn took second.
About three minutes separated the two teams, nearly half the margin from a year ago.
Started just over a decade ago, the WolfTrack Classic conjures up memories of the days when Ely hosted the All-American Sled Dog Races, a staple on the local calendar in the 1970s and 1980s.
Turnout for this year’s event was up 20 percent compared to a 2018.
The event also attracted some local mushers, with area veterinarian Jen Freking placing fourth in the eight-dog race while Ely eighth-grader Morgan McClelland steered her six-dog team to a 10th-place finish.
Jasper Johnston may be Ely’s most prominent, multi-tasking winter sport athlete.
Just a week after he earned all-state status in Nordic skiing, Johnson was on the dog trail and was 13th with his six-dog team.
The 2020 WolfTrack Classic is set for Feb. 23, 2020.
Results included:
Eight-Dog (top 5)
1. Bergen, 4:45:16;
2. Anderson, 4:49:11;
3. Frank Moe, 5:07:26;
4. Freking, 5:39:42;
5. Rhonda Heerschap, 5:51:40;
Six-Dog (top 10)
1. Al-Jo Thiart, 2:21:37;
2. Vanden Toorn, 2:24:48;
3. Gehard Thiart, 2:28:52;
4. Jim Ward, 2:29:33;
5. Nick Turman, 2:36:21;
6. Alex Laplante, 2:39;34;
7. Dusty Klaven, 2:44:34;
8. Tyler DeBoer, 2:44:43;
9. John Ward, 2:46:17;
10. McClelland, 2:46:33.
Full results can be found online at www.wolftrackclassic.com.