Swingley wins third straight Iditarod sled race
Updated: Wednesday March 14, 2001 6:38 PM
NOME, Alaska (AP) -- Doug Swingley won the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Wednesday for the third straight year, completing an 1,100-mile trip through the harsh Alaska wilderness.
The musher from Lincoln, Mont., arrived at the finish in Nome at 6:55 a.m., ending his trek in 9 days, 19 hours, 55 minutes and beating a field that featured six previous champions.
"This was a special race to win because it was really difficult," Swingley said. "These dogs are the athletes. They're the ones that are fabulous."
Swingley, who finished first in 1995, equaled Susan Butcher's total of four victories. The only five-time champion is Rick Swenson.
Swingley won $62,857 and a new pickup truck. The first 30 finishers share in the race's $550,000 purse.
The race from Anchorage to Nome, first run in 1973, commemorates a 1925 lifesaving delivery of serum to diptheria-stricken Nome by sled dogs.
Sixty-eight teams started the race in Anchorage on March 3. 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.
Swingley headed out from White Mountain on Tuesday evening with 77 miles to go. When he reached that point earlier in the day, he was about six hours ahead of his closest pursuer, Linwood Fiedler. Swenson was in fourth place Tuesday.
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 of Willow pushed further down the trail than any other musher before taking his 24-hour rest and took the lead.
"Linwood did a great job ... in shaking it up," Swingley said.
While Fiedler soon relinquished 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.
Swingley disputes the notion that he does not have to rest his dogs as long as other competitors. He credits his three-year streak to good dog breeding and training.
And he said his winning formula hinges on the relationship he has with his dogs.
"I raise all my pups," Swingley said.
Swingley trains on the logging roads near his home in Montana. An unusually warm winter left Alaska mushers traveling far to find good conditions to train.
A rough trail kept Swingley from breaking the record time of 9 days, 58 minutes he set last year.
More than 1,000 dogs entered this year and some had to be dropped at checkpoints and shipped 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 those of Chuck King of Tempe, Ariz., and Michael Nosko of Willow. King has AIDS and was competing as an inspiration to others. Nosko's lead dogs were injured after being hit by a snowmachine.