Front-runners settle in for 24-hour layovers

Posted: Thursday, March 07, 2002

CRIPPLE (AP) -- Martin Buser, Linwood Fiedler, DeeDee Jonrowe and other top mushers were in Cripple Thursday morning, settling in for their mandatory 24-hour layovers at the halfway point of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

Meanwhile, Jeff King of Denali Park and Charlie Boulding had pulled into Ophir after taking their 24s in McGrath. King, going for his fourth Iditarod win, arrived in Ophir at 3:31 a.m. Thursday. Boulding pulled in at 4:40 a.m.

However, other top contenders who have taken their 24-hour rest beat them out of Ophir for the 60-mile run to Cripple. Vern Halter of Willow departed from Ophir at 5:17 a.m., Mitch Seavey of Seward left at 7:05 a.m. and Sonny King of Spartanburg, S.C., pulled out at 7:09 a.m.

The trail to Cripple winds along the Innoko River and crosses the river twice before heading northeast. The run is mostly flat with sparse scrub spruce except for a few rolling hills as mushers approach Cripple.

Buser, a three-time Iditarod champion, was the first musher into Cripple early Wednesday night, claiming $3,000 in gold nuggets and a trophy for being the first to the race halfway point.

Buser, of Big Lake, reached Cripple with 13 dogs at 6:13 p.m., followed 88 minutes later by Fiedler, who lives in Willow. Jonrowe, also of Willow, arrived at 8:21 p.m. Wednesday, followed 20 minutes later by Ramy Brooks of Healy.

A winner is expected to cross the finish line in Nome sometime Tuesday. But with unusually good trail conditions, some mushers say, the race record of nine days, 58 minutes, set by reigning champion Doug Swingley of Lincoln, Mont. in 2000 could be broken.

Swingley, a four-time winner, is in the race this year but is purposely lagging far behind the leaders. Swingley said he is running a sightseeing trek instead of going for a fourth-consecutive win.

The winner will take home the top prize of nearly $63,000 and a new pickup truck. The top 30 finishers will share a $550,000 purse.

Sixty-two of 64 teams that began the 30th running of the Iditarod remain on the trail.

Burt Bomhoff of Chugiak and Perry Solomonson of Plain, Wash. have scratched.

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