NOME, Alaska (AP) -- Doug Swingley won the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Tuesday proving with his third consecutive victory that he is the reigning king of long-distance dog mushing.
The Lincoln, Mont., musher drove his dog team 1,100-miles through the Alaska wilderness to reach the finish in Nome at 6:55 a.m., finishing the race in 9 days, 19 hours,55 minutes.
He beat a field that includes six previous champions.
''This was a special race to win, because it was really difficult,'' Swingley said. Mushers had to contend with an icy trail that had little snow and was bare in spots. Strong headwinds on the Yukon River and the Bering Sea coast also made things difficult, but his team pulled through.
''These dogs are the athletes. They're the ones that are fabulous,'' Swingley said.
For his first-place finish, Swingley wins $62,857 and a new quad-cab pickup truck. The first 30 finishers share in the race's $550,000 purse.
Swingley, who finished first in 1995 and now has equaled Susan Butcher's four victories, said he would welcome a real challenge in years to come. Only five-time champion Rick Swenson has won more.
''Linwood did a great job ... in shaking it up,'' Swingley said of this year's race in which Linwood Fiedler of Willow challenged him for the lead early in the second half.
The Iditarod is held each year to commemorate a 1925 mad-dash to Nome in which sled dogs and mushers delivered lifesaving diphtheria serum to this historic Gold Rush town. Sixty-eight teams started the race in Anchorage on March 3.
Swingley ran nearly the same race he did in 2000 and 1999. He positioned himself in the first half to take the lead early in the second half and then extended his lead until it was insurmountable.
''It's easy to predict what I'm going to do, but it's real hard to keep up,'' Swingley said.
Swingley reached the halfway point first as he normally does, but Fiedler pushed further down the trail than any other musher before taking his 24-hour rest and took the lead.
While Fiedler was soon forced to relinquish the lead to Swingley, he received $3,500 in cash for being the first musher to reach the Yukon River. He donated $500 each to four villages to buy school books.
While competitors have said Swingley doesn't have to rest his dogs as long as they do, he said that isn't the case. Swingley said he rests his team at least as long as his competitors and perhaps more.
He credits his three-year streak to good dog breeding and training. His breeding goes back to a 12-year-old foundation dog named Elmer.
''Elmer had a tremendous personal desire to achieve,'' Swingley said. ''No matter how tired out he was he was eager to drive the team.''
Elmer sired Peppy and Stormy, the two dogs that led the team down Front Street and under the burled arch that marks the finish in Nome.
Swingley said his winning formula hinges on the relationship he has with his dogs.
''I raise all my pups,'' Swingley said.
Swingley also benefitted from good conditions where he trains on the logging roads near his home in Montana. An unusually warm winter left Alaska mushers traveling far and wide to find good conditions to train.
A rough trail kept Swingley from breaking the record race time of nine days and 58 minutes he set last year.
The trail also was hard on the more than 1,000 dogs entered in this year's race. Some had to be dropped at race checkpoints for shipment home because of sore feet, wrists and shoulders. Two dogs died during the race, one from a rare bacterial infection and the other from fluid in the lungs.
Eleven teams scratched, including Chuck King of Tempe, Arizona, who has AIDS and was competing as an inspiration to others, and Michael Nosko of Willow whose lead dogs were injured after being hit by a snowmachine.
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