March 15, 2006

US dog sled racer wins Iditarod for fourth time

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - Veteran musher Jeff King drove his dog team into the Bering Sea town of Nome on Wednesday to capture the 1,100-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, the world's premier dog-sled event, for the fourth time.

King, of Denali, Alaska, finished the race in nine days, 11 hours, 11 minutes and 36 seconds, leaving him almost three hours ahead of his closest competitor, four-time winner Doug Swingley of Montana.

For being first to cross the finish in the Anchorage-to-Nome race, King will take home $69,000 and a new truck, part of a total race purse of more than $800,000.

"This is pretty cool. I worked pretty hard for it," King said after arriving in the former Gold Rush town of Nome at about 1 a.m. "We really went to the greatest lengths we could to prepare the dogs and all the equipment."

King, 46, is known for his technical and training innovations. He has designed a special type of sled with a seat, including a safety buckle, and this year he had a hand warmer attached to his handlebar and specially designed loose lines for his dogs that allowed them greater freedom of movement.

New snow, fierce winds and unexpectedly frigid temperatures made the race especially challenging. King, in comments broadcast live on statewide television, said the conditions were a departure from recent warm-weather years.

"We got a little taste of everything in this year's race, and it was winter," he said.

The victory puts King in an elite group of four-time winners that includes Susan Butcher, Martin Buser and Swingley. Rick Swenson is the only five-time Iditarod winner.

The Iditarod commemorates a 1925 sled-dog relay that delivered medicine to halt a diphtheria outbreak in Nome. Mushers and their dog teams traveled then from Nenana, a small town accessible by the Alaska Railroad, to Nome using traditional winter trails because there was no other practical way of sending the medicine quickly.

Seventy-two mushers were still on the trail when King finished. Eighty-three mushers started the race on March 4 in Anchorage.