On second try, Norwegian Waerner takes Iditarod crown

On second try, Norwegian Waerner takes Iditarod crown
Iditarod musher Thomas Waerner, a 46-year-old Norwegian, arrives at the Unalakleet checkpoint on Saturday, March 14, 2020. (Source: KTUU/Gray News)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU/Gray News) - Norwegian Thomas Waerner cruised to the Iditarod crown after opening a gap between his team and the rest of the pack earlier in the week and never letting up on the commanding lead, KTUU reports.

The veteran musher arrived at the famed Burled Arch in Nome, Alaska, 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.”

Waerner’s lead dogs, K2 and Bark, joined him for photos at the finish line.

Waerner, 46, is one of just a handful of mushers who have won the storied race on just their second try. He was born in England but raised in Norway and began mushing in 1984, according to his Iditarod.com 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 way to Nome in the 48th running of the Iditarod, one of the few sporting events worldwide not canceled over concerns of the new coronavirus.

However, Iditarod finish festivities like the finishers’ banquet, traditionally held the Sunday after the champion’s finish, are postponed to a later date.

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