On second try, Norwegian Waerner takes Iditarod crown

Waerner won the 2020 edition of the world-famous sled dog race early Wednesday
Published: Mar. 17, 2020 at 2:39 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Norwegian Thomas Waerner cruised to the Iditarod crown early Wednesday after opening a gap between his team and the rest of the pack earlier in the week, from there never letting up on a commanding lead.

The veteran musher arrived at the famed Burled Arch in Nome with 10 dogs in harness at 12:37 a.m. on March 18, 9 days, 10 hours, 37 minutes and 47 seconds after starting the race, to become the third Norwegian ever to win the Last Great Race on Earth. He follows in the footsteps of Joar Leifseth Ulsom, who won in 2018, and Robert Sørlie, who won in 2003 and 2005.

Waerner’s newly-minted Iditarod title also comes on the heels of his 2019 win in Norway’s 1,200-kilometer Finnmarksløpet, his second first-place finish in what’s touted as the longest sled dog race in all of Europe.

"I am really excited," said Thomas' wife Guro Waerner via Facebook as his race was wrapping up, "and relieved that he is winning. Going to (the) Iditarod is a big project for us Norwegians, so it is extra rewarding."

Guro said she’d had to leave ahead of the finish because of coronavirus-related travel restrictions and worries she might get stuck outside of Norway.

Under the Burled Arch, however, Waerner’s dogs K2 and Bark joined him for photos at the finish line, and he was still greeted by a crowd of lively fans upon his arrival.

Waerner, whose first Iditarod was in 2015, is also one of just a handful of mushers who have won the storied race on just their second try: He joins the likes of Sørlie, who won on his second and third attempts; Rick Swenson, who won in 1977 on his second try and took home four more titles after that; and, among others, Dean Osmar, who won in 1984 on his second run.

Libby Riddles became the first woman to win in 1985 on her third try. Dick Wilmarth, who died at the age of 75 back in 2018, won the inaugural Iditarod in 1973.

Waerner, 46, who was born in England but raised in Norway, began mushing in 1984, according to his biography. He became a musher for Iditarod legend Roger Legaard in 1990, followed by Charlie Champagne and Roxy Wright in 1991. After starting with sprint racing, including in Alaska, he attempted the Iditarod for the first time in 2015, garnering Rookie of the Year honors.

Eleven mushers had scratched by the time Waerner finished. With all but one still left to cross the finish line, 45 mushers and dog teams remain on their ways to Nome in the 48th running of the Iditarod, one of the few sporting events worldwide not canceled over concerns of the new coronavirus.

For that same reason, Iditarod finish festivities such as the finishers’ banquet - traditionally held the Sunday after the champion’s finish - have been postponed to a later date.

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