Hundreds of athletes from 18 different nations descended on the soft trails of Thetford Forest last weekend.
Teams from Finland, Andorra, Sweden and Latvia were among those who travelled to King’s Forest – part of Thetford Forest – to compete in the International Federation of Sleddog Sports’ European Championships, which ran from Thursday to Sunday.
Cushla Lamen, secretary of the British Sleddog Sports Federation (BSSF), which organised the event, said: “It’s the first time anything like this has ever come to the UK so we were thrilled, and everybody said they thoroughly enjoyed it and had a fantastic time and are dying to come back, which is brilliant news.”
The four-day event saw between one and eight highly-trained canines pull mushers around 5km or 7km courses, either on foot, bike, scooter or rigs with three or four wheels, but each race begins the same way – the dogs barking and jumping with excitement until the countdown reaches ‘one’, then silence falls and they take off with enthusiastic determination.
Dogs participating included Siberian Huskies, Greysters, Alaskan Hounds and Euro Hounds, with many other breeds also taking part.
“It’s absolutely phenomenal, it’s amazing to watch,” said Ms Lamen. “The larger teams go out with two minute intervals between them and the others with one – the eight-dog teams can easily reach 50km per hour so they’re really motoring.
“At the start, the noise, because of the excitement of the dogs, is unbelievable and the power they go off the start line with is incredible.”
The terrain at Thetford Forest is said to make it the ‘gold standard’ for this kind of sport, with sandy paths that drain water quickly and flat, grassy trails which are good for the dogs while also enabling them to set fast times.
Matt Hammersley, vice-president for sport BSSF, said: “We chose Thetford Forest due to the quality of its trails being amongst some of the best in Europe, the relative distance from the ferry and tunnel access to Europe.
“The event was very successful, not only in showing great competition between some of the best dryland sled dog drivers in the world, but also in showing the rest of Europe the quality of trails and dog teams we have here in the UK.
“Thetford Forest having some of the best trails in the UK was an obvious choice as the location for the event.”
“We would like to thank the local Forestry Commission, residents and of course all the athletes for taking the time to travel to and make the event a huge success,” he added.
The home teams won three bronze, three silver and two gold medals.