Norwegian musher jumps into lead in Iditarod

Posted: Tuesday, March 04, 2003

MANLEY (AP) -- Musher Robert Sorlie of Hurdal, Norway jumped into the lead early Tuesday in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

Sorlie left the Interior town of Manley at 4:30 a.m. He was followed by John Baker of Kotzebue, who left at 5 a.m. and defending champion Martin Buser, who left at 5:01 a.m. Aliy Zirkle of Two Rivers left at 6 a.m. in fourth place.

The frontrunners left 21 teams remaining in Manley. From Manley, the teams have a 60-mile run over moderately hilly terrain to Tanana.

The restart of the race was moved north of Fairbanks for the first time, due to a lack of snow in Southcentral Alaska. As a result, the first 330 miles of the route in this year's race is new to even veteran teams and the top teams have begun jockeying for position early.

Sorlie, 45, is running only his second Iditarod, but he has already developed a reputation as a serious contender.

He finished in ninth place last year to claim top rookie honors and posted a new rookie record, finishing the race in nine days, 13 hours, 44 minutes. Prior to that no rookie had ever finished the race in less than 10 days.

Sorlie's ninth-place finish was the highest finish by a rookie, since 1992, when Montana musher Doug Swingley also finished ninth.

Sorlie, a firefighter, began mushing in 1970 and is a three-time winner of Norway's premier long-distance sled dog race, the 1,000-kilometer Finnmarkslopet.

Baker, running his eighth Iditarod, finished third last year. Buser, of Big Lake, is a four-time champion. Zirkle, making her third Iditarod run, won Alaska's other premier long-distance sled dog race, the Yukon Quest, in 2000.

In 5th place was Lynda Plettner of Houston, Alaska, who was first into Manley. She arrived at 12:01 a.m. Three-time champion Jeff King of Denali Park was in 6th place, arriving in Manley 1:36 a.m. Both remained at the checkpoint at midmorning.

The teams were traveling fairly close together, with almost all passing through Nenana by late Monday. Only one musher, Todd Capistrant of Emerald, Wis. remained in Nenana, the first checkpoint, at midmorning Tuesday.

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