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Jackie Larson repeats as 2022 Akiak Dash champion on fast trail

Jackie Larson made it two in row and repeated as champion in the 2022 Akiak Dash Sled Dog Race on Saturday, Jan. 29 in Bethel. It was a tight finish. He arrived at 6:37 p.m., just one minute ahead of Raymond Alexie of Kwethluk.

“I feel very proud of how the dogs performed. I’m happy to do it again. It was a good run,”  Larson said. 

Larson’s time of 4:37 is among the fastest runs in Akiak Dash history. According to it is the fastest time on the books, but this year’s race omitted a traditional one-hour rest break in Akiak.

The 52-year-old Napaskiak musher defended his 2021 win by outlasting 18-year-old Alexie on the roughly 65-mile trail from Bethel to Akiak and back. The two raced in close company all afternoon. Alexie remained ahead until Akiachak, but then Larson made his move. He passed Alexie and moved ahead on the hard and icy trail downriver to Bethel.

“I noticed he was slowing down in Akiachak,” Larson said. “That’s when I started pushing.” 

This year’s Akiak Dash is the second time in a month that Larson and Alexie finished first and second in a local sprint race. In the December 2021 Holiday Classic, however, it was Alexie who claimed the top spot.

For his Akiak Dash title, Larson brings home a winner’s check worth $4,700.

Alexie’s second place finish this year is his best among his three Akiak Dash finishes. He raced at the front of the pack from the very start and battled with Larson until the end in Bethel.

“He had a stronger team coming back. I had the lead going up. After he passed me at Akiachak, he had a stronger team, and I knew he was going to finish before me,”  Alexie said. 

For his second place finish, Alexie wins $3,700.

Third place finisher Mike Williams Jr. of Akiak used the race to closely watch his team as he gears up for two bigger races coming up on his calendar.

“They did good. They picked up speed again once we got past Akiachak. Now it’s a work in progress. We’re going to get a few more miles on them before Bogus [Creek 150] and Iditarod,” Williams Jr. said. 

Williams Jr. originally registered to run the Kuskokwim 300 Sled Dog Race, which happens the same weekend as the Akiak Dash. But he switched to the Dash after deciding that he was not able to get enough training miles on his team for the longer race.

The top 15 Akiak Dash finishers win prize money from a $30,000 purse.

Darren George of Akiachak was the top placing rookie in 5th place.

Ben Matheson has worked as a reporter for KYUK in Bethel and KNOM in Nome.
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