Going for gold

More than 100 years have passed since the Last Great Gold Rush, but that doesn’t mean there don’t remain some hearty souls ready to embark on the great migration north yet again.

Leading the charge, in fact, are a pair of Chautauqua County’s very own: Jay and Sherla Olmstead.

But while those men and women a century ago sought their prize by panning rivers and moving earth, the Olmsteads (and a large number of competitors from around the globe) will be vying for it in a different – though, to those prospectors of old, not unfamiliar – manner all together; they will be dog sled racing.

Yes, Jay, who first took up mushing back in 1968 at the age of 9, will be representing the United States and contending for his own “gold” of sorts – the title of World Champion – in the 2013 International Federation of Sled Dog Sports World Championships at North Pole, Alaska (a small city about 14 miles west-southwest of Fairbanks) in early March.

The World Championships are held every two years with the site rotating each time between North America and Europe. In 2011, it took place in Norway, and will now be back in Alaska for the first time in more than a decade.

The Sinclairville couple, along with their six pointer cross sled dogs, will be leaving by car on Feb. 8, making a short stop in Wisconsin to take part in a couple of warm-up races before traveling through Canada by the Alaskan Highway. They plan on arriving in North Pole about a week later, giving them plenty of time to ready themselves for the three-day event taking place on the first, second and third of the month.

“We’re looking forward to it,” Sherla said. “We’re very psyched, and we feel it’s an honor to be representing the United States.”

And after two previous appearances in the World Championships – he raced in Fairbanks in 1993 and then captured 10th overall, and third amongst American racers, at Lake Placid in 1995 – Jay intends to hit it big this time around with a win.

As the top-ranked four-dog sled racer in the country, he’s got the talent to make it happen.

Olmstead competed in five races this past year in New York, Michigan (twice), Wisconsin and Ontario, Canada, and in each of those races it was the 40-year racing veteran and his four dogs that crossed the finish line ahead of all other competitors. The year-long performance earned him the 2012 International Sled Dog Racing Association four-dog sprint gold medal, his second such award since 2007.

It’s that success that has the pair feeling confident in heading to Alaska.

“He wants to win,” Sherla said. “The dogs are running the same as last year; they’re running fast and we hope that we can win every race.”

Olmstead and his team will race a 4- to 5-mile looping course over three consecutive days. The fastest combined time from those three races will decide who is crowned World Champion.

While much of the result will depend on Jay’s direction from the sled, his four-dog team, which can speed along at 20 miles per hour during a race, will have a hefty say in the matter as well. Thus far the group, which is made of dogs that are a cross between Alaskan Huskies and English Pointers, has been more than equal to the task, and should continue to be on the biggest stage.

“We are very proud of what our dogs have achieved this year,” Sherla said. “We feel that (they) are exceptional athletes and they have the ability to be one of the best four-dog teams entered.”

For sponsorship opportunities and more information, contact the Olmsteads at 962-4511, or email them at jskennel@windstream.net.

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