‘I’m in a pickle.’ Four-time champ to take over Petit’s dog team after positive COVID test

Four-time race champion Jeff King to take over Petit’s team
Nicolas Petit to miss 2022 Iditarod due to positive COVID test
Published: Mar. 2, 2022 at 5:16 AM AKST|Updated: Mar. 2, 2022 at 1:11 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Iditarod musher Nicolas Petit has dropped out of the 2022 Iditarod due to a positive COVID-19 test. In his stead, four-time Iditarod champion Jeff King will be taking Petit’s dog team to Nome.

In a cryptic Facebook post that does not directly say he has contracted the coronavirus, Petit included a photo of a positive rapid test, with the words “Just couldn’t dodge COVID.”

Petit, who has wins in several big races including four straight in the Copper Basin 300, continues by suggesting he has a replacement musher to race his team and ends the post thanking former Iditarod champion Jeff King.

King confirmed with Alaska’s News Source on Wednesday morning that he will be racing the Iditarod in place of Petit, who lives in Big Lake. King is a four-time Iditarod winner, but has not raced in the Last Great Race since 2019.

In eight Iditarod starts, Petit has six top-10 finishes, including a runner-up result in 2018.

In a separate post later on Tuesday, Petit describes possible symptoms of COVID-19, saying, “My eyes are watering and I definitely can smell.”

King missed the 2020 race in similar fashion, bowing out just days before the start due to a perforated intestine that required emergency surgery, and missed last year’s event due to routine surgery related to the same intestinal issue.

King said that he had just finished a radio interview Tuesday morning and was in Denali Park helping his young mushing pupil, Amanda Otto, prepare for her first Iditarod, when he got the text that changed his 2022 plans.

“When I got back to the truck yesterday about 3 p.m., I had a text from Nic ... he was poking fun at the words I had chosen in last year’s (Kobuk) 440 when I was in need of some help,” King recalled. “I had sent an InReach message to my handler saying, ‘I’m in a pickle,’ and it wasn’t by accident that that’s what Nic said to me in his text, ‘I’m in a pickle’, and then he went on to say he had COVID, and considered me a good choice, and wondered if I considered running his team with his food drops.”

King said he wasn’t necessarily feeling the itch to return to the 1,000-plus mile race, but after hearing Petit’s plea and seeing the weather forecast calling for favorable conditions, he wasn’t going to say no.

“I don’t think I’d have gone if word on the street was there was no snow and I was gonna beat bump over the trail like we did in 2014 with dirt and rocks,” King said. “I’m the first to admit, I lost my desire to show off how tough I am in 50 below and 50 mile an hour winds, but if the weather is just half-ass reasonable, I’m going to have a great time.”

King said Wednesday that he hadn’t seen Petit’s dog team yet, but that he has always been impressed with the team Petit puts together when the two cross paths on the race trail. King expects to get to know them and understand their behaviors as the race gets underway Saturday with the ceremonial start in Anchorage. The race officially begins Sunday in Willow.

“Like any great coach in football or basketball can move from one team to another, the players quickly figure out if the coach knows what he’s doing,” King said. “... They won’t do their best when I’m driving them, but they will be very close.”

Husky Homestead dog handler Amanda Otto will be racing King’s A team for her rookie race, and King said the two had talked about the “fantasy” of traveling the trail together, though he was excited to see her take the team out. “I have been living vicariously through her preparations,” King said. “But I’d be lying if I said I had the same kind of — not even close to — the same passion for running all the way to Nome.”

King said he doesn’t know Petit very well, but that the list of mushers that would be qualified to take over a team is short. “I have to have already been qualified to meet Iditarod’s qualification requirements, so I’ve checked all those boxes,” King said.

He said by manner of living and training in different parts of the state, he and Petit have “never been in a place where we’ve shared a beer and a campfire except maybe a race somewhere... the only time I’d ever really meet him is when he’s passing me and I’m passing him.”

Iditarod race marshal Mark Nordman said the race is happy to have the four-time champion back on the Iditarod trail. “It’s up to (the race marshal’s) discretion if somebody can come into the play after somebody is not going to be able to run the race,” Nordman said in a Wednesday pre-race media call. “Jeff of course has fit all our protocols, no question about his abilities.”

King has run mid-distance races already this season, meeting qualifying race requirements.

“He’s excited, I think he’s a little nervous,” Nordman added. “He’s a great representative of the sport and I welcome him to Iditarod.”

Though he’d initially planned to ride a snowmachine along the trail as a sweeper this year, King is looking forward to getting to know Petit’s dog team, which has dogs descended from his own Husky Homestead kennel.

“I always have been impressed with the dog team he puts together,” King said. “If I’m last, it won’t be the dogs fault, and if I’m first, they won’t have done it all by themselves.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional information.

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