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NOME - Doug Swingley won the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race this morning, proving with his third consecutive victory that he is the reigning king of long-distance dog mushing.
The Lincoln, Mont., musher drove his dog team 1,100 miles through the Alaska wilderness to reach the finish line in Nome at 6:55 a.m., finishing the race in nine days, 19 hours, 55 minutes.
He beat a field that included six previous champions.
"This was a special race to win because it was really difficult," Swingley said. Mushers had to contend with an icy trail that had little snow and was bare in spots. Strong headwinds on the Yukon River and the Bering Sea coast also made things difficult, but his team pulled through.
"These dogs are the athletes. They're the ones that are fabulous," Swingley said.
He won $62,857 and a new quad-cab pickup truck. The first 30 finishers share in the race's $550,000 purse.
Swingley, who finished first in 1995 and now has equaled Susan Butcher's four victories, said he would welcome a real challenge in years to come. Only five-time champion Rick Swenson has won more.
"Linwood did a great job ... in shaking it up," Swingley said of this year's race in which Linwood Fiedler of Willow challenged him for the lead early in the second half.
Fiedler, who leads glacier dogsled tours in Juneau during the summer, was in second place as of late this morning, between White Mountain and Nome. Next in line on the trail was three-time winner Jeff King, followed by Swenson and Paul Gebhardt.
The Iditarod is held each year to commemorate a 1925 dash to Nome in which sled dogs and mushers delivered lifesaving diphtheria serum to this historic Gold Rush town. Sixty-eight teams started the race in Anchorage on March 3.
Swingley ran nearly the same race he did in 2000 and 1999. He positioned himself in the first half to take the lead early in the second half and then extended his lead until it was insurmountable.
Swingley reached the halfway point first as he normally does, but Fiedler pushed further down the trail than any other musher before taking his 24-hour rest and took the lead.
While Fiedler was soon forced to relinquish the lead, he received $3,500 in cash for being the first musher to reach the Yukon River. He donated $500 each to four villages to buy school books.
While competitors have said Swingley doesn't have to rest his dogs as long as they do, he said that isn't the case. Swingley said he rests his team at least as long as his competitors and perhaps more.