ST. JUST DE BRETENIERES, Quebec — Mushers love to debate everything from breeds to booties to biscuits.
But on Tuesday at the International Federation of Sleddog Sports World Championships, it was all about Barack Obama as the international racers took a break from competition to watch a televised broadcast of the swearing in of the 44th president of the United States.
“I think this is just fantastic,” Cindy Foggitt, a musher from South Africa, said. “It’s about time.”
The significance of the event was not lost on Foggitt, whose own country elected its first black government in 1994 after the fall of apartheid.
“I’m almost a little honored this is happening the same day I head out on the race trails so far from my home,” she said.
Dave Meisenheimer, a musher from Ottawa, Ontario, held his 4-month-old son Daniel in his arms as they watched Obama take the oath of office.
“It’s really quite heartening,” Meisenheimer said. “I don’t know if anybody can live up to the expectations people have for him, but if he can, it will be great.”
As the cameras in Washington, D.C., panned the massive crowd of spectators on the National Mall, Meisenheimer shook his head.
“I just get goose bumps looking at that,” he said.
For Jamaican Sled Dog Team founder Danny Melville, the day held a special symbolism.
“We see the first black president of the U.S. sworn in the same day the first black musher is in the world championships,” Melville said.
Like Meisenheimer, Melville wonders if Obama is up for the massive challenges ahead.
“In Jamaica, we say it’s like giving someone a basket to carry water [and] Obama has a lot of water to carry,” Melville said.
Among those challenges are the U.S. economy, wars in the Middle East and a huge national debt.
“It’s so tough,” he said.
“This is good because it’s a new man,” Igor Tracz, a musher from Poland, said. “We hope many conflicts around the world will now be finished.”
Tracz’s friend Lithuanian musher Hubert Biliujus agreed.
“I think he will be a good leader,” Biliujus said. “He is more sympathetic to the people.”
The mood at the races among the international mushers was one of hopeful optimism as the Bush era came to an end.
“I think this day we welcome America back to the rest of the world,” Melville said.