FAIRBANKS — Nicole Johnston was hampered by a sinus infection Wednesday, but she was happy to hear that she was among the inductees for the 2017 class of the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame in Anchorage.
Johnston, a Native games legend who has had a long involvement with the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics, was joined in the individual-inductee category by Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race four-time champions Jeff King, of Denali Park, and Martin Buser, of Willow.
“It’s pretty cool, huh? I’m pretty excited about that,’’ Johnson said by cellphone when being told of her induction.
The Fur Rendezvous World Championship Sled Dog Race, a three-day sprint competition conducted each February in Anchorage, is the events inductee for the 11th class of the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame. The moments inductee is mountaineering legend Vern Tejas becoming the first solo climber to complete a winter ascent of 20, 310-foot Denali in 1988.
“We’re excited about the class of 2017,’’ Harlow Robinson, Alaska Sports Hall of Fame executive director, said in an ASHOF release Wednesday.
“The inductees represent classically Alaskan sports,’’ Robinson said. “It’s a group of household names in our state that have been in the discussion for induction for many years.”
The date and location for the 2017 induction ceremony has not been announced.
The five inductees were voted by a selection panel during a meeting Sunday in Anchorage.
The selection panel consists of Bob Eley, a former News-Miner sports editor who was chairman of the selection panel; Beth Bragg, Alaska Dispatch News sports editor; Lew Freedman, former Anchorage Daily News sports editor and author of numerous books about Alaska sports; George Houston, longtime Juneau basketball coach; Mike Janecek, longtime Matanuska Valley high school coach and athletics administrator; Danny Martin, News-Miner sports editor; Kathleen Navarre, Kodiak and Dimond High School coach and administrator; Steve Nerland, American Legion baseball manager in Anchorage and community leader for sports causes; and Mike Sica, longtime Southeast and Fairbanks sports broadcaster and journalist.
Johnston, who grew up in Nome, first competed in the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics as a 16-year-old in 1985 when the annual celebration of Native culture and games took place the Big Dipper Ice Arena.
The now 47-year-old has been involved for 28 years as a WEIO athlete, coach, administrator and chairwoman of its board of governors.
“Besides being part of my life, it’s definitely a passion,’’ Johnston said.
“Just preserving, teaching and coaching traditional Native games. And once you become part of WEIO, you become part of our family, no matter where you’re from.
“Like we say all the time, it’s family and getting to share what we love with everyone,’’ she said.
WEIO, which takes place each July at the Carlson Center, has been featured in People and Cosmopolitan magazines and on ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” ABC’s “Good Morning America” and NBC’s “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”
Johnston also has competed and coached in the annual Native Youth Olympics in Anchorage, and the biennial Arctic Winter Games, which took place in Fairbanks in 2014, in Nuuk, Greenland, this year, and will be next conducted in 2018 in the Northwest Territories communities of Hay River and Fort Smith.
Johnston has collected more than 100 career medals in such major Native games competition as WEIO, NYO and Arctic Winter Games.
She learned the games in Nome and emerged as her generation’s greatest champion. Later, she became an ambassador of the sport, traveling the state to teach skills to young athletes.
Her versatility is as renowned as her durability. She has won in such technical events as the kneel jump, strength events such as the arm pull and such athletic events as the high kick.
Johnston’s two-foot high kick record of
6 feet, 6 inches set in 1989 stood for 25 years.
King guided his dog teams to Iditarod titles in 1993, 1996, 1998 and 2006. However, his winning pedigree extends beyond winning four times in the Iditarod, which extends about 1,000 miles each March from Anchorage to Nome.
King has possibly collected more race titles than any other long-
distance and mid-distance musher in the world.
Besides success in mushing marathons like the Iditarod, Yukon Quest and the International Rocky Mountain Stage Stop, King has lived up to his name by winning the Kuskokwim 300 nine times, the Tustumena 200 three times and Copper Basin 300 twice.
King won in 1989 in the Yukon Quest, which runs 1,000 miles each February between Fairbanks and Whitehorse, Yukon. The race alternates its starting and finish lines each year.
The 2017 Quest begins Feb. 4 in downtown Whitehorse and finishes on the Chena River in downtown Fairbanks near the Cushman Street Bridge.
The Rocky Mountain Stage Stop, now known as the Pedigree Stage Stop Race, runs for about 300 miles each February in Wyoming. The Tustamena 200 starts and finishes each January in Kasilof, and the Copper Basin 300 starts and finishes each January in Glennallen.
The Tustamena and Copper Basin races are qualifiers for the Quest and Iditarod.
Buser won the Iditarod in 1992, 1994, 1997 and 2002, and he currently holds the race record for most consecutive finishes with 31. He has registered 19 top-10 finishes, including 14 straight from 1987-2000.
In 2002, his team ran a record time of 8 days and 22 hours — a mark that stood for nine years.
Buser has received the Iditarod’s coveted Leonhard Seppala Award for humanitarian dog care an unprecedented five times (1988, 1993, 1995 and 1997 and 2014).