Buser wins fourth Iditarod in record time

Posted: Tuesday, March 12, 2002

NOME, Alaska (AP) -- Waving a large American flag as he entered the finish chute, Martin Buser claimed his fourth victory in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Tuesday, winning in record time.

Buser arrived at 8:46 a.m. to finish the 1,100-mile race from Anchorage to Nome in eight days, 22 hours, 46 minutes. He is the first musher to finish in less than nine days.

''It feels pretty good,'' Buser said. ''It's going to be exciting to hold that record for a while.''

A crowd lined Front Street to welcome Buser and his dogs to this Gold Rush town on the edge of frozen Norton Sound, despite temperatures in the low teens. With dogs Bronson and Kira in lead, Buser crossed under the burled arch that marks the finish line of the race.

Buser will become an American citizen Wednesday in a ceremony to be held under the arch and the theme of the finish was patriotic, with his wife, Kathy Chapoton, and sons, Rohn and Nikolai, decked out in red, white and blue and waving small flags.

Buser, 44, was born in Winterthur, Switzerland, but has lived in Alaska for 23 years. He said he was motivated to become an American citizen after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

''Until then, I had felt like an Alaskan,'' Buser said. ''I wanted to be here and stand my ground and prove that this is my home turf.''

Knowing that his family was waiting and that he would become a citizen helped keep him motivated and upbeat as he made his way to Nome, Buser said.

In finishing first, Buser wins $62,800 and a new pickup truck.

The musher from Big Lake enjoyed nearly perfect trail conditions and clear skies for most of the way. He traveled near the front of the pack for the first half of the race and had a decisive lead by the halfway point at Cripple.

Because the trail was so good, his dogs moved fast, giving him more time to rest at the checkpoint. In turn, that additional rest gave them even more speed, Buser said.

''It's a mathematical equation. The more you rest, the faster you go,'' he said.

That additional rest helped him fight off a challenge by Ramy Brooks of Healy, late in the race. Brooks tried to close the three-hour gap that separated him from Buser by skipping rest at the Elim checkpoint, 123 miles from Nome. Brooks left Elim just eight minutes behind Buser, but quickly fell behind as his team slowed.

Brooks reached Nome at 10:49 a.m., finishing the race in nine days, 49 minutes.

''I pretty much knew that, unless Martin made a mistake or something happened with his dogs, there was no way I could overpower him,'' Brooks said at the finish line.

Buser bested the previous race record by 2 hours, 12 minutes. That record was set by Doug Swingley of Lincoln, Mont. in 2000. Brooks also finished ahead of the previous record.

Swingley won last year's race and started the Iditarod this year, but said early on that he would not be racing and would be taking a sabbatical from the race.

Buser's said Swingley's decision not to defend his title didn't affect him.

''He couldn't keep up with me anyway,'' Buser said.

Buser placed 24th last year, his worst finish in 15 years. Before the start of the race, Buser said his goal was to go ''from worst to first.''

He credited the turnaround to more serious training. Buser said he cut his public appearances and involvement with civic organizations to spend more time with his dogs.

His wife's advice at the start of the race was to finish with lots of dogs, in daylight and with a good attitude, Buser said.

''It's daylight,'' Buser said. ''I've got 10 dogs and I'm pretty happy with the place I'm in.''

Buser, his wife and sons will be heading back out on the trail next week, riding snowmobiles down the trail to their home in Big Lake. Buser said that, on the way up to Nome, he stashed some treats along the way.

''Hopefully the foxes and wolves didn't get to them,'' he said.

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