Montana's Doug Swingley leads Iditarod teams

Posted: Thursday, March 09, 2000

OPHIR, Alaska (AP) -- Defending champion Doug Swingley kept his lead Wednesday in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, but previous winners Martin Buser and Rick Swenson were right behind him.

Swingley of Lincoln, Mont., arrived at Ophir, an old gold mining town, at 10:07 a.m., leaving 12 minutes later. He dropped a dog at the checkpoint, leaving him with a 12-dog team.

Three-time Iditarod winner Martin Buser of Big Lake, Alaska, arrived at 10:55 a.m. and stayed for about six hours before pushing on with 13 dogs at 4:51 p.m.

Swenson of Two Rivers, Alaska, the race's only five-time winner, left 22 minutes after Buser with a 14-dog team.

''All right King, that a boy,'' Swenson said as he directed the team back on the trail toward the next checkpoint at Cripple 60 miles away.

Paul Gebhardt of Kasilof, Alaska, who had been leading the race since Monday, remained in the previous checkpoint at Takotna for a mandatory 24-hour layover. He had arrived at the previous checkpoint in Takotna about 1 1/2 hours before Swingley.

DeeDee Jonrowe of Willow, Alaska chose to take her layover in Ophir.

Rick Mackey of Nenana, Alaska, who won the race in 1983, was preparing to leave Ophir shortly after Swenson departed.

''I think I'm in a real good position. So far everything has worked out,'' Mackey said as he tossed fish chunks to his dogs.

While some of the frontrunners pushed through Takotna, other mushers took advantage of the village's reputation for hospitality. Takotna and its 51 residents puts on one of the biggest welcomes for mushers in the 1,100-mile race from Anchorage to Nome. For that reason, many of the mushers choose to do their mandatory 24 there. A record 81 mushers began the race on Saturday. Two have scratched.

Volunteers cooked up everything from burgers, pies and cakes to steak and crab legs at the community hall, which sits in the center of town. Mushers were taking the opportunity to catch up on some much-needed rest after tending to their dogs. They've been racing since Sunday and fatigue was starting to set in.

During the 24-hour layover, mushers' times are adjusted to make up for their differing start times, so it can be difficult to tell exactly who is ahead until they complete their layovers.

About a dozen mushers joined Gebhardt for the long stay in Takotna, including Ramy Brooks of Healy, Bill Cotter of Nenana, Jerry Riley of Nenana and Jon Little of Kasilof.

Teams in the back of the pack were having trouble with a trail left rough and bumpy by snowmachines and other mushers. Several mushers had broken their sleds, running into trees and stumps.

Temperatures have been rising into the 30s during the day and many mushers have been running their teams during the cool nights, so as not to overheat the dogs. Mushers welcomed the colder temperatures of Alaska's Interior, where temperatures hovered around zero Wednesday morning.

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