2001 Yukon Quest champ, 3-time Jr. Iditarod winner eyes big prize

Mushing veteran ready for 17th Iditarod

Posted: Friday, March 01, 2002

You've gotta keep it all in the family.

Kasilof musher Tim Osmar has more experience running the Iditarod than anyone on the peninsula. And he's still not the top Iditarod finisher in his own family.

Osmar's father, Dean, is a champion of the Last Great Race, and he says he'd love to see his son join him.

"We've talked about it. It would be really neat to join the Mackeys (Dick and Rick Mackey are the only father-son tandem to bring home sled dog racing's most prestigious title), but it's tough. It's a whole different deal these days," said Dean Osmar, who won the 1984 Iditarod.

Now another Osmar is champing at the bit, and she's already adding to the family's racing tradition. Tim's oldest daughter, Nicole, 14, competed in her first Junior Iditarod this year, placing 10th. In doing so, the family achieved a racing first -- becoming the first father-daughter pair to have run the race.

So just how does having three generations of mushers in the family help a musher's chances? Lots of training for the dogs, for one.

This year, Tim plans on using dogs from both his father's and daughter's teams on his Iditarod squad. All the Osmars have been racing dogs this season. In addition to Nicole, Tim's father took a team to Oregon for a stage race earlier this year.

"I've got about 24 dogs to choose 16 from. I'll probably use about seven from my (Yukon) Quest team, and some from (Dean's) Oregon team, and my daughter just ran the Junior Iditarod, so we'll be looking at some of those dogs, too," he said Tuesday from Anchorage where, he was resting after last week's Yukon Quest.

Having so many race-trained dogs to choose from is always an advantage in sled dog racing. And so is having lots of people to help train them. Getting started at a young age, an Osmar specialty, helps, too.

Tim got his start when he was just 10 years old.

"I was 10 or 11 when we first got dogs. I didn't start until he (Dean) did it. It was just a natural progression from there," he said.

"He started training the dogs with me when he was 10, and he was racing when he was 13," Dean said.

Osmar ran the Junior Iditarod in 1982, '83 and '84, winning all three times. In 1985 he joined his dad on the Iditarod Trail as an 18-year-old rookie, finishing in 13th place. Since then, he's gone on to record six top-10 Iditarod finishes, including a third place finish in 1992. He also won the 2001 Yukon Quest.

However, it's not all about winning, says Osmar.

"The main idea is to take care of the dogs, have a good time and try and keep a big team at the end. If you can do that, you have a chance of making a charge at the end," he said.

However, joining his dad as an Iditarod champion this year won't be easy, according to both Osmars.

"You hear about how hard it is to beat a Kenyan in a marathon. It's hard to beat a dog team from Lincoln, Mont., I guess," said Dean, referring to defending champion Doug Swingley's high-altitude home base.

The younger Osmar also thinks Swingley will be hard to beat, but adds there are no sure things in sled dog racing.

"Swingley's the odds-on favorite, but the law of averages says the same guy can't win every year. Anybody in the top 10 has a chance of winning," he said, adding several peninsula mushers could challenge this year.

"(Mitch) Seavey has a lot of experience, Jon Little has a heck of a team, and Lance Mackey does, too. All of us have a chance at being in the top 20, if not the top 10," Osmar said.

"You never know what's going to happen out there."

And if Tim Osmar can't bring the top prize home this year, the Osmar family Iditarod tradition will still run strong. After all, Nicole will be eligible for "The Last Great Race" in 2006.

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