IDITAROD -- Defending champion Doug Swingley was the first musher into this namesake Gold Rush ghost town as leaders in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race reached the midpoint of the 1,100-mile event.
Swingley, from Lincoln, Mont., arrived at 11:45 p.m. Wednesday, after overtaking Linwood Fiedler of Willow, who had left the checkpoint at Ophir 35 minutes ahead of him. Fiedler arrived at 2:18 a.m.
Swingley was awarded a halfway prize of $3,000 in gold nuggets. Fiedler earned $2,000 in gold.
Swingley is a three-time Iditarod champ coming off back-to-back victories. He set the race record last year, reaching Nome in nine days, 58 minutes.
Swingley was clearly building up some momentum Wednesday. He stopped at the Ophir checkpoint only long enough to sign through.
Fiedler had been leading the pack for the past couple of days, from the slopes of the Alaska Range onto the icy tundra of the roadless Interior.
He has been pursuing a race strategy of long runs without stops rather than the more normal schedule of six- or eight hours on and six- or eight hours off.
Fiedler said he honed his strategy last summer while hauling tourists around the Norris Glacier, 3,500 feet above Juneau on the Mendenhall Icecap.
Most of the rest of the front-runners were bedded down overnight back at Takotna or McGrath, taking the 24-hour rest required of all teams before they reach the frozen Yukon River.
Teams also are required to take an eight-hour break along the Yukon River and at White Mountain, near the finish.
Swingley and Fiedler were expected to take their 24s at Iditarod, where it appeared they would be joined by 1983 winner Rick Mackey of Nenana, who was running in third place.
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