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Triple World Championship win for Scottish dog teams

From left to right Graeme Scott, Steven Lindsay and Keith Johnson
with some of their top racing dogs, Jim, Finch and Bud.

Scotland’s top three sled dog racing teams have scooped three World Champion titles in Maasvallei in Belgium recently.

The three teams took part in the Dryland World Championships organised by the International Federation of Sled dog Sports (IFSS), the biggest non-snow sled dog race in the world. Mushers Keith Johnson, Steven Lindsay and Graeme Scott won the 4-dog, 6-dog and 8-dog classes respectfully, beating fellow athletes from as far as the USA, Canada, Korea, South Africa, Russia and Europe. The top mushers race with specially bred ‘Euro-hounds’ and use a three-wheeled lightweight rig to hurtle along forest tracks, at average speeds of 30 km/hour.

Two of the mushers, Steven Lindsay, from Keir Mill near Dumfries, and Keith Johnson, from Kilmaurs in Ayrshire, were defending titles won earlier this year. But they say winning this time around tested their dog teams and their skills to the limit. Keith Johnson said: “There was a much bigger field of competitors, around 500 in total, and this was by far the most physically demanding race any of us have taken part in. It was a watershed race in terms of putting Scotland on the global sled dog map. The sport has traditionally been dominated by Scandinavia and Germany, and I was particularly pleased to beat Norwegian musher Kjetil Hillestead, who has been one of the best in the world for decades.”

For Steven Lindsay the win confirms his view that Scotland is now the nation to watch for sled dog racing internationally: “To have Scottish teams win the three most prestigious titles in this championship was incredible, and was a real shock to the other competitors. This was a brutal race. We counted at least two broken legs, two smashed pelvises and several cracked ribs among the other mushers. All three of us coming out victorious and unscathed is a real testament to the skills we’ve developed in Scotland.

Dryland sled dog racing is ideally suited to Scotland’s climate and landscape. Our winning recipe is outstanding training facilities, excellent dog care and the innovative equipment we use. The Scottish approach to this sport is absolutely unique, and the initial amusement of some of our burly German counterparts at three wee Scottish lads with pampered pets, turned to shock as well left them trailing in the forest! We’re proud to have redefined the sport of sled dog racing internationally, and hope to reinvigorate it in Scotland!”

This was the first time that current European Champion Graeme Scott from Dumfries took part in a World Championship race, and it marks the start of a gruelling four month tour competing in the top sled dog races across Europe.

“To compete and win on a world stage is an incredible achievement for all of us, and it’s very important for the sport in the UK. Like any other sport, it takes hard work, dedication and top class fitness, both for the dogs and the mushers.”

The final results showed Keith Johnson beating his nearest competitor by 1 minute 20 seconds, Graeme Scott won by 2 minutes 20 seconds, while Steven Lindsay won by a whopping 3 minutes 5 seconds. The wins were made all the more remarkable by the fact that Steven won the 6-dog class with only 5 dogs, while Graeme won the 8-dog class with only 6 dogs.

Graeme added “Generally speaking the more dogs you have, the more power you have, and the faster you go. Both Steven and I felt the course was just too demanding for some of our dogs, so our decision to take a risk and compete against larger, more powerful teams turned out to be the right one. In the end, we all won by significant margins.”

As well as being a world class musher Steven Lindsay is Project Manager of Dog Sport Scotland, an initiative launched last year to promote and use the sport of sled dog racing to increase winter tourism in Dumfries & Galloway. He hopes the triple win will help raise awareness of the sport across the country, and encourage people to come along and watch the races in Scotland’s forests.

Steven says: “Dryland sled dog racing is one of the fastest growing sports in the world. All three teams train regularly on the facilities in the forests of Dumfries & Galloway, on average around four times a week. This is a sport that’s exciting for the mushers, the dogs and for spectators, and we want to make Scotland a global centre of excellence for everyone to enjoy it.”