Norwegian Robert Sorlie wins Iditarod

Norwegian Robert Sorlie sits with his lead dogs Socks, left, and Blue after he crossed the finish line to win the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on March 16. 

NOME, Alaska — Robert Sorlie's mind was constantly on the
other competitors at the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

After winning one of the closest races in years, the Norwegian
was just thinking about catching up on sleep.

"I was always worried about the other mushers," Sorlie said
after he crossed the finish line in this old mining town Wednesday.
"In the last three days, I have slept one hour each night."

The 47-year-old firefighter traversed one of the slushiest
trails ever, dropping half his dog team along the way, and held off
late pushes from two other mushers in the closing stretch.

Waving a Norwegian flag, Sorlie cruised in at 8:39 a.m.,
finishing the race across Alaska in nine days, 18 hours, 39 minutes
and 31 seconds. It was his second victory in three tries.

Sorlie was still in the winner's circle when Ed Iten, 51, of
Kotzebue, scored second place 34 minutes later, followed seven
minutes later by 2004 winner Mitch Seavey, 45, of Seward. He was
there to greet his 26-year-old nephew, Norwegian Bjornar Andersen,
who finished fourth — the best rookie showing ever — at 9:50 a.m.,
81 minutes behind Sorlie.

Sorlie won $72,066.67 and a pickup truck for his victory in the
33rd Iditarod. The top 30 finishers share most of the $750,000
total purse.

Unseasonably warm weather made much of this year's race a slushy
challenge. The temperature dropped to 25 degrees when Sorlie
reached Nome, though locals trucked in snow to provide a fresh
finish down Front Street.

Colder weather is easier on the dogs, which generally run best
in a range from 20-below zero to 20 degrees above. Lack of a solid
snow base forced a shift of the March 6 start from Wasilla to
Willow, and patches of grass were visible along some stretches of

"It was so warm in the race we could have used T-shirts,"
Sorlie said with a laugh.

Sorlie finished the race with eight dogs, having dropped eight
sick, sore or tired dogs at checkpoints along the trail. It was
half the 16 required at the start of the race, but the same number
that pulled him to victory two years ago. His team traveled an
average 4.65 mph this year.

The Iditarod is a fairly recent challenge for Sorlie, a
three-time champion of Norway's premier long-distance sled dog
race, the 600-mile Finnmarkslopet.

"I think I am an ambassador for the Iditarod in my country,"
Sorlie said.

Sorlie's made his first run in 2002, when he finished ninth in
the 1,100-mile trek from Anchorage to this town of 3,500 at the
edge of the Bering Sea. It was a new rookie record, broken
Wednesday by his nephew though Sorlie's 2002 time was almost seven
hours faster.

This year, as in 2003, Sorlie grabbed the lead early and fended
off a strong field that included five other Iditarod champions.

Brooks, 36, finished fifth at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, followed 11
minutes later by John Baker of Kotzebue. Placing seventh was Lance
Mackey of Kasilof, who won the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International
Sled Dog Race last month. Rounding out the top 10 were Jessie Royer
of Fairbanks, Paul Gebhardt of Kasilof — the only musher to have a
dog die so far this year — and DeeDee Jonrowe of Willow.

Sorlie, from Hurdal, Norway, is the second Iditarod winner born
outside the United States and the second non-Alaskan to win. Doug
Swingley of Lincoln, Mont., won four times and Martin Buser, a
Swiss native who has lived in Alaska more than two decades, became
a U.S. citizen after winning his fourth Iditarod in 2002.

Sorlie credited his team for the win. The dogs were chosen from
a pool of 50 owned by himself, Andersen and fellow Norwegian Kjetil
Backen, who placed third in '04 and served as an Iditarod handler
this year.

Sorlie plans to sit out the 2006 race, but said his nephew will
be back.

"This year was my time to take the best team," he said. "Next
year will be for Bjornar."

Dog teams will be coming into Nome for days. Fifteen mushers
have scratched from the original field of 79.

Two left the race Wednesday. Legally blind rookie Rachael
Scdoris of Bend, Ore., quit at Eagle Island. Karen Ramstead of
Perryvale, Alberta, dropped out at Unalakleet.