Norwegian ''rookie'' makes his country proud

Posted: Thursday, March 13, 2003

OSLO, Norway (AP) -- Focusing on speed and breaking records, Norwegian firefighter Robert Sorlie made his country proud by becoming the first Norwegian to win the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

''They're not prepared for this,'' Christian Engelschjoen, Sorlie's friend and neighbor, said Thursday about the way newspapers and television stations have covered Sorlie.

Engelschjoen said Norway, a Nordic country of 4.5 million residents, is more accustomed to success cross-country skiing and biathlon than mushing dogs across Alaska.

Friends of the 45-year-old firefighter, last year's Iditarod rookie of the year, kept tabs on Sorlie's bid and offered their support while he trained.

''Without them it would not have been possible for him to go,'' Engelschjoen said.

Sorlie's fellow firefighters made collections, even after working overtime, and they're hysterical supporters of the musher.

Egil Bakken, a chef at a downtown restaurant, was unaware Soerlie was up to something big, racing ''The Last Great Race'', as the Itarod is called.

''Maybe it's because (Norwegians) focus on individual sports,'' Bakken said, suggesting that learning to measure the small advantages in individual sports helped.

Sorlie's home in quiet Jeppedalen, near the capital, Oslo, and even nearer the vast proving grounds for his prize dogs.

''We mush straight from our doors onto the trails, its endless,'' Engelschjoen said.

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