NOME, Alaska -- Montana musher Doug Swingley won the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Wednesday. It was his third consecutive win and his fourth championship.
Arriving in Nome, Swingley paid homage to the race's only five-time champion, Rick Swenson, while apparently fixing Swenson's achievement in his sights. Swenson last won in 1991.
''If I get a fifth championship, it naturally will be a great thing,'' he said.
But no matter what happens, ''Rick Swenson is still the greatest musher to me,'' Swingley said after driving his dog team 1,100 miles through the Alaska wilderness to reach Nome in nine days, 19 hours, and 55 minutes.
Swingley beat a field that included six previous champions, collecting $62,857 and a new pickup. He now has equaled Susan Butcher's four victories in the race. Jeff King and Martin Buser have each won three Iditarods.
Linwood Fiedler of Willow greets the crowd after he crossed the finish line of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Nome Wednesday.
AP Photo/Al Grillo
''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. Other veteran mushers struggled, including three-time winner Martin Buser, who had dropped out of the top 20 Wednesday.
''These dogs are the athletes. They're the ones that are fabulous,'' Swingley said.
Linwood Fiedler, his closest rival, arrived eight hours behind Swingley. He won $55,000.
Jeff King reached Nome three and a half hours behind Fiedler, to collect $47,143 from the $550,000 purse. The top 30 mushers share that purse.
King said the race was exciting for him because he felt at times that he had a real shot at winning. But he realized near Ophir that Swingley was out of his reach.
Three-time Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race champion Jeff King of Denali, Park, Alaska waves to the crowds he drives his team up the finish chute of the Iditarod Trial Sled Dog Race in Nome, Alaska, Wednesday, March 14, 2001, to finish the 1,100-sled dog race in third place. King finished the race in 10 days, 7 hours and 19 minutes.
AP Photo/Al Grillo
''There was a point in there it almost seemed supernatural,'' King said, referring to Swingley's speed. ''He's got something figured out for sure.''
Swingley said he would welcome a real challenge in years to come.
''Linwood did a great job ... in shaking it up,'' Swingley said of this year's race in which the Willow, Alaska, musher challenged him for the lead early in the second half.
''The dogs were in the zone and it felt awesome,'' said Fiedler, whose best previous finishes were in 1990 and 1998, when he was eighth. ''This year it just felt real comfortable. It didn't unnerve me.''
''I had the confidence to appreciate they were in the zone and not to hold them back.''
People lined the finish chute in Nome to cheer the mushers in what is a celebrated event in Alaska. The Iditarod is held each year to commemorate a 1925 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.
''Congratulations Linwood, you are a great musher and a nicer person,'' one fan yelled from the crowd.
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 that lead until it was insurmountable.
Swingley reached the halfway point first, as he often has, but Fiedler retook the lead by pushing further down the trail than any other musher before taking his 24-hour rest.
While Fiedler was soon forced to relinquish the lead to Swingley, he collected $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, two of Swingley's leaders that were on his winning teams this year and last.
Swingley said his winning formula hinges on the relationship he has with his dogs.
''I raise all my pups,'' Swingley said.
Fiedler said he also spent more time with his dogs during the training season, and they responded with an outstanding race.
''We just had a lot of faith in this bunch of dogs,'' he said.
Swingley 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 Iditarod trail kept Swingley from breaking his own record race time of nine days and 58 minutes. He set that record a year ago.
The trail 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 Iditarod dogs died, one from a rare bacterial infection three days after it was dropped from the race, and the other on the trail from fluid in the lungs. Both mushers were allowed to continue in the race.
Eleven teams scratched, including Chuck King of Tempe, Ariz., 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.
As of 8:09 p.m. Wednesday
Musher Dogs Time
1. D. Swingley 11 9:19:55:50
2. L. Fiedler 10 10:3:58:57
3. J. King 8 10:7:19:43
Musher Chpt Dogs Time in Time out
4. R. Swenson WMntn 11 7:36 a.m. 3:48 p.m.
5. J. Baker WMntn 11 11:46 a.m. 7:46 p.m.
6. P. Gebhardt WMntn 7 11:50 a.m. 7:50 p.m.
7. J. Riley WMntn 10 1:49 p.m. --
8. R. Mackey WMntn 10 2:20 p.m. --
9. D. Jonrowe Elim 10 10:11 a.m. 2:31 p.m.
10. S. King Elim 13 9:19 a.m. 2:33 p.m.
11. V. Halter Elim 12 6:18 p.m. --
12. R. Brooks Koyuk 9 7:02 a.m. 12:50 p.m.
13. C. Boulding Koyuk 8 7:08 a.m. 2:31 p.m.
14. J. Royer Koyuk 10 3:45 p.m. --
15. J. Little Koyuk 12 4:05 p.m. --
16. R. Smyth Koyuk 9 4:08 p.m. --
17. T. Osmar Koyuk 10 4:10 p.m. --
18. E. Iten Koyuk 10 4:11 p.m. --
19. M. Buser Koyuk 9 5:09 p.m. --
20. J. Alcina Koyuk 9 5:23 p.m. --
Other peninsula mushers
38. L. Mackey Shtlk 9 7:50 p.m. --
50. M. Seavey Kaltag 9 6:19 p.m.* 3:57 a.m.
51. Danny Seavey Kaltag 13 6:26 p.m.* 3:58 a.m.
52. Dan Seavey Kaltag 12 6:58 p.m. * 3:58 a.m.
* -- Tuesday
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