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Norwegian musher sprains ankle before race; handler takes team

Posted: Sunday, March 03, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Norwegian musher Harald Tunheim was sidelined with a badly sprained ankle and had to watch the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on television while a handler ran his team.

Tunheim twisted his ankle at the pre-race banquet Thursday night as he approached the podium to accept his bib number, said race marshal Mark Nordman.

He was taken to a hospital. X-rays determined the ankle was not broken but doctors advised that Tunheim stay off it for a few days.

''He's in a lot of pain,'' Nordman said. ''He was really worried about it.''

After consulting with members of the Iditarod Trail Committee, race officials allowed one of Tunheim's handlers, Jacob Sarrve, to run Tunheim's team at the ceremonial start from Anchorage to Eagle River, Nordman said. It was the first time a substitute was permitted to stand in for a musher.

''Everybody agreed he (Tunheim) deserved a chance. We'd do it whether he was from Knik or from Norway,'' Nordman said.

The race clock does not begin until the restart Sunday in Wasilla and the mushers' times from Anchorage to Eagle River do not count toward their elapsed time.

With his foot propped up and packed in ice, Tunheim, 43, watched the race on television from the Palmer bed and breakfast where he was staying.

It was a disheartening setback for the musher from Alta, Norway, who is running his third Iditarod. Tunheim won the top rookie award in 1999 when he finished 19th. Last year he finished in 25th place.

Tunheim said he had spent approximately $50,000 to make the long trip to Alaska to run the race this year.

The accident occurred as Tunheim hopped over a rope while approaching the stage, he said. He jumped from the plywood floor laid down over the ice rink and landed on the concrete flooring on the other side of the rope, which was a few inches lower than the plywood.

''It was really painful,'' he said. Despite the pain, he accepted his bib number and made a speech thanking his sponsors before heading to the kitchen in search of ice. When the pain persisted he went to a hospital, where a doctor told him he should rest it for a minimum of three days.

On Saturday, he described his ankle as ''swollen like a tennis ball'' but said he would be on his sled at Sunday's race re-start in Wasilla.

''If I want to go to Nome I have to start,'' he said.

Depending on how his ankle feels, Tunheim said he may take his mandatory 24-hour layover in Skwentna, 120 miles into the 1,100-mile race to Nome.

''The tough part of the race is Monday and Tuesday -- Finger Lake, Rainy Pass, Nikolai. That's tough. You have to have two good legs,'' Tunheim said. ''Iditarod is not for a man with one leg.''



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