ANCHORAGE, Alaska – The head of the Iditarod's drug testing program, who is challenging his termination from a university job over allegations of bullying and sexual harassment, has been accused of threatening a musher just before the start of this year's race — another black mark for the beleaguered, world-famous sled dog race.
Iditarod officials said Wednesday they are reviewing the allegations and will determine the future role of Dr. Morrie Craig within the next few days. Craig is a contractor for the Iditarod, who is paid an annual $2,500 stipend.
The Iditarod's policy against sexual harassment also covers bullying.
Attempts to reach Craig on Wednesday weren't successful.
In a statement released by his kennel Tuesday, musher Wade Marrs claimed Craig threatened to reveal him as a second musher whose dogs tested positive for a banned substance last year.
Marrs said the threat came in retaliation for his work with the Iditarod Official Finishers Club, which has been critical of race officials for how they handled the positive drug tests last year involving the team of four-time Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey.
Marrs also claimed it was intended to silence him before a club meeting after the race ends next week in Nome.
Marrs' team had a trace amount of the banned substance lidocaine in their urine after last year's test, but it wasn't enough to trigger a positive test, said Chas St. George, the race's chief operations officer.
In October, race officials announced dogs on Seavey's team tested positive for tramadol, an opioid pain killer but said they could not prove that Seavey administered the drug and didn't punish him after his second-place finish.
Seavey denies administering any banned substance to his dogs and dropped out of this year's race in protest.
The statement from Marrs' kennel claims Craig approached the musher just 30 minutes before the race began Sunday in Willow, Alaska. It says Craig told Marrs the urine from his dog teams contained trace amounts of a banned substance, and if Marrs "workings" with the finishers club and Seavey didn't end, the information would be released to the public.
"This was very ill-timed, it was right before Wade was getting ready to leave Willow and move on up the trail," St. George said. "I know Dr. Craig has already expressed his apologies, but as far we're concerned this is still something we have to weigh."
Stan Hooley, chief executive of the Iditarod, spoke with Marrs Tuesday at a checkpoint 300 miles into the race, but St. George didn't have details of the conversation.
St. George said it's not unusual for the director of testing to interact with mushers, or "chat them up," as urine is collected from the dogs for testing.
"What interaction he had with Wade went beyond that," St. George said.
Craig, a toxicology professor at Oregon State University, was terminated on Oct. 30 after a faculty committee found he had bullied two students and had sexually harassed a student and faculty member.
Craig remains employed as he challenges his termination through the university process and in the Oregon state court system, said Steve Clark, vice president for university relations at Oregon State.
The current 46th Iditarod could be the most challenging. Along with fallout from the dog doping scandal, the race has lost a major sponsor as animal rights activists ratchet up pressure.
Joar Leifseth Ulsom of Norway was leading the Iditarod on Wednesday, and he was the first musher out of the checkpoint in the ghost town of Ophir, about 350 miles into the race. Sixty-seven mushers began the race for Nome on Sunday, and the winner is expected early next week.