OPHIR, Alaska -- 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 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, 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, 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 chose to take her layover in Ophir.
Rick Mackey of Nenana, 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 put 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.
As of 10 p.m. Wednesday
Musher Checkpoint Dogs Time In Time Out
1. Doug Swingley Ophir 13 10:07 a.m. 10:19 a.m.
2. Rick Swenson Ophir 14 11:02 a.m. 5:13 p.m.
3. Martin Buser Ophir 13 10:55 a.m.
4. DeeDee Jonrowe Ophir 13 11:35 a.m.
5. Rick Mackey Ophir 15 2:09 p.m.
6. Tony Willis Ophir 12 6:45 p.m.
7. Paul Gebhardt Takotna 14 12:54 a.m.
8. Ramy Brooks Takotna 13 4:07 a.m.
9. Bill Cotter Takotna 13 6:50 a.m.
10. Jerry Riley Takotna 12 8:02 a.m.
11. Zack Steer Takotna 15 8:20 a.m.
12. Jon Little Takotna 16 9:12 a.m.
13. Aaron Burmeister Takotna 13 10:15 a.m.
14. Sonny King Takotna 13 10:34 a.m.
15. Vern Halter Takotna 12 11:06 a.m.
16. Mike Williams Takotna 16 11:11 a.m.
17. Ramey Smyth Takotna 14 12:21 p.m.
18. Jeff King McGrath 13 12:23 a.m.
19. Charlie Boulding McGrath 13 1:06 a.m.
20. Mitch Seavey McGrath 15 2:19 a.m.
Other peninsula mushers
23. Tim Osmar McGrath 14 4:14 a.m.
47. James Wheeler Nikolai 14 8:03 a.m.
51. John Bramante Nikolai 16 9:28 a.m.
57. Caleb Banse Nikolai 16 1:40 p.m.
63. Bob Hempstead Rohn 15 9:48 p.m. 8:49 a.m.
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