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Sørlie, for sure

Norwegian claims title in Iditarod

Posted: Thursday, March 13, 2003

NOME - Norwegian musher Robert Sørlie won the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, fighting wind and cold toward the finish of his more than nine-day trek.

The 45-year-old firefighter waved to hundreds of cheering spectators on Front Street early today as he led his eight-dog team to victory at 1:47 a.m. He finished ahead of Ramy Brooks of Healy and three-time Iditarod champion Jeff King of Denali Park. Brooks arrived in Nome at 3:37 a.m. and King crossed the finish line at 9:17 a.m.

Sørlie's total elapsed time was 9 days, 15 hours, 47 minutes, 36 seconds, while Brooks had a time of 9:17:37:10 and King's time was 9:23:17:00.

"I'm feeling very well," Sørlie said before he hugged his wife, Elin Pedersen, in the winner's circle.

It was only the second time Sørlie had made the 1,100-mile trip from Anchorage to Nome, a town of 3,500 along the frozen Bering Sea.

Sørlie is the second non-Alaskan to win the Iditarod and the second winner born outside the United States. Doug Swingley of Lincoln, Mont., won four times and Martin Buser of Big Lake, a Swiss native who has lived in Alaska more than 20 years, became a U.S. citizen after winning his fourth Iditarod last year. Swingley, who didn't race this year, won in 1995, 1999, 2000 and 2001, while Buser, who was running among the race leaders, won in 1992, 1994, 1997 and 2002.

Sørlie finished in nine days, 15 hours, 47 minutes. He will take home $68,571 and a new truck.

"That truck is mine," he said before leaving the village of White Mountain on Wednesday afternoon for the 77-mile home stretch to Nome. Brooks conceded victory to Sørlie when he left the checkpoint 1 1/2 hours behind the Norwegian.

"It was a tough trail between White Mountain and Nome - wind, cold, much wind-blown snow," Sørlie said. "But I'm feeling good now."

Sørlie was the first musher into the White Mountain checkpoint, where teams are required to take an eight-hour layover before heading for Nome.

Sørlie is a three-time champion of Norway's premier long-distance sled dog race, the 600-mile Finnmarksløpet. Last year he finished ninth in the Iditarod, to set a rookie record.

Sixty-four mushers entered this year's Iditarod, which had a $600,000 purse. By late Wednesday, 49 mushers were still in the race.

A lack of snow south of the Alaska range and warm weather forced race officials to change the route of this year's race. Instead of canceling the entire event, the race's restart - where the real racing begins - was moved north to Fairbanks.

The new route was 70 miles longer than the traditional trail and followed terrain that even veteran mushers weren't familiar with. Then last weekend, race organizers decided to drop the last leg of the route between Anvik and Shageluk because of poor trail conditions. That cut about 50 miles from the route.

The changes were the most drastic since the race between Anchorage and Nome began in 1973.

The initial route change was praised by some animal rights groups, who noted race officials' acknowledgment toward the dogs' safety and health. Other rights groups continue to criticize the race, however, even though scores of veterinarians examine the teams throughout the race.

Buser was running in fourth place and Ken Anderson of Fairbanks was fifth. In sixth place was John Baker of Kotzebue, followed two minutes later by Linwood Fiedler of Willow, who runs summer sled dog tours on Norton Glacier near Juneau.

Completing the top 10 were Ramey Smyth of Big Lake, Ed Iten of Kotzebue and Sonny Lindner of Fairbanks. All had left Elim on Wednesday night.

Iditarod leaders

Leading mushers as of 9:30 a.m. today, with times into Nome:

1. Robert Sørlie, 1:47 a.m. today.

2. Ramy Brooks, 3:37 a.m. today

3. Jeff King, 9:17 a.m. today

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