Fielder first out of Ophir as leapfrogging continues

Posted: Wednesday, March 06, 2002

OPHIR -- The leapfrogging among mushers continued Wednesday in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

Linwood Fiedler of Willow breezed through Ophir at 7:35 a.m., beating first-arrival Martin Buser of Big Lake out of the checkpoint one minute after arriving.

Ramy Brooks of Healy also wasted no time in Ophir, which is 669 miles from the Nome finish. He arrived in Ophir at 9:02 a.m. and rolled out 10 minutes later.

Buser, a three-time Iditarod winner, checked into Ophir at 5:52 a.m. but hadn't left by late Monday morning.

At this point in the 1,100-mile race, however, it's difficult to tell who is actually in the lead because the mushers begin taking their mandatory 24-hours layovers. That means the mushers up front aren't necessarily in the lead if they haven't taken the long break.

Fiedler, last year's runner-up, was the first to leave the Takotna checkpoint Wednesday morning, departing at 5:05 a.m. for Ophir 25 miles up the trail.

Following closely was John Baker of Kotzebue, who left Takotna at 6:35 a.m. and checked into Ophir at 9:04 a.m. Brooks left Takotna at 6:41 a.m., trailed by DeeDee Jonrowe of Willow at 6:50 a.m.

Defending Iditarod champion Doug Swingley remained among the laggers. Swingley, a four-time champion who won the last three Iditarods, announced Tuesday he is running a noncompetitive race instead of seeking an unprecedented fourth straight win.

Swingley was in 48th place Wednesday morning, departing from the Rohn checkpoint at 7:37 a.m. after a 12 1/2 hour rest. Next stop for Swingley was Nikolai 80 miles away.

A winner is expected to cross the finish line in Nome sometime Tuesday. But with unusually good trail conditions, some mushers say, the race record of nine days, 58 minutes, set by Swingley in 2000 could be broken.

The winner will take home the top prize of nearly $63,000 and a new pickup truck. The top 30 finishers will share a $550,000 purse.

Sixty-two of 64 teams that began the 30th running of the Iditarod remained on the trail.

Burt Bomhoff of Chugiak and Perry Solomonson of Plain, Washington have scratched.

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