Norwegian wins Iditarod dog-sled
race, crowds kept away by virus precautions
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[March 18, 2020]
By Yereth Rosen
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - Norwegian
musher Thomas Waerner won the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race early on
Wednesday, capturing victory in only his second attempt at the
famous long-distance race across Alaska.
Waerner and his tail-wagging dogs reached the finish line in
downtown Nome just after midnight, completing the 1,000-mile race in
nine days, 10 hours and 37:47 minutes.
"It has always been a dream to come here and do the race," said
Waerner, who became fascinated by the Iditarod as an 11-year-old
reading about mushing legends like Susan Butcher and Rick Swenson.
"It’s amazing, I feel kind of speechless."
A pared-down team of race officials and a small cluster of cheering
fans, one waving a large Norwegian flag, greeted Waerner. The usual
huge and raucous Nome finish-line crowd was absent, curtailed by the
global coronavirus pandemic.
To reduce chances of contagion, the city of Nome canceled all its
Iditarod-related events and discouraged visitors from out of town –
a marked change from past years, when the town is packed with
Iditarod revelers from around the world.
There was "social distancing" along the trail, too. Some of the
Native villages that serve as race checkpoints moved those sites out
of town, and officials barred spectator crowds at those places on
the trail where mushers and their dogs take breaks.
With those adaptations, the Iditarod was able to continue, unlike
other major sports events many of which have been canceled.
Waerner and his dogs were able to push though deep snow which slowed
their closest competitors. He snatched the lead over the weekend
from Jessie Royer, who was vying to become the first woman to win
the Iditarod since 1990, and other top contenders.
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The 47-year-old musher from Synnfjell, a mountainous town near
Lillehammer, ran his first Iditarod in 2015. He finished in 17th
place, the top spot that year for a rookie. While he is relatively
new to the Iditarod, Waerner is an accomplished musher on the
European circuit. Last year he won the 1,200-kilometer (745-mile)
Finnmarksløpet, Europe’s longest dog-sled race.
Waerner is part of a growing Norwegian presence at the Iditarod. He
is the third of his countrymen to win the famous race, following
two-time champion Robert Sorlie and 2018 champion Joar Leifseth
Interviewed in the finish chute, Waerner said he had a message for
"They should come here and do the race, also. It’s an amazing race.
The nature you go through, the checkpoints, trails, this is the
greatest race you can do," he said. "So you in Norway, just start
For his victory, Waerner won $51,000 and a new truck.
Fifty-seven mushers and their teams started the race on March 7 in
Anchorage. As of early Wednesday, after Waerner crossed the finish
line, 11 had dropped out but 45 more remained on the trail.
(Reporting by Yereth Rosen in Anchorage; Editing by Raissa
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