While other mushers turned back in a blizzard, Rick Swenson plowed ahead through thigh-high snowdrifts to win a record fifth Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Friday.
Swenson and his dog team crossed the finish line on Front Street in Nome at 1:35 a.m., winning in an unofficial time of 12 days, 16 hours and 34 minutes.The 1,163-mile race, which usually lasts 11 to 14 days, began in Anchorage on March 2. A record 75 mushers and more than 1,400 dogs competed.
About 500 cheering spectators stood on both sides of a snow-fenced chute Friday in wind-chill temperatures of 50 degrees below zero.
A siren sounded Swenson's entry into this historic Gold Rush community, and he waved from behind his sled as it moved off the Bering Sea coast and onto Front Street, passing beneath the burl arch that marks the finish line.
"The dogs are the champs," Swenson, 40, told reporters.
Martin Buser, a Swiss-born musher from Big Lake, emerged from the blizzard to finish No. 2, crossing the finish line at 3:41 a.m. Buser has completed six Iditarods and came in third in 1988.
Defending champion and four-time winner Susan Butcher finished in third place.
Butcher had held a one-hour lead Thursday but lost it when she reversed course during a whiteout. Swenson and Buser gambled big on the weather, hoping their dog teams could find their way through the Arctic storm.
Swenson left the final checkpoint at Safety late Thursday for the 22-mile run to the finish line in Nome.
Butcher, 1989 winner Joe Runyan and Tim Osmar had lost the trail and returned to the White Mountain checkpoint, 77 miles from the finish line. They headed out again Thursday night.
Wind in the White Mountain area Thursday gusted from 46 to 57 mph and the temperature was about 20 degrees below zero, officials said.
Swenson said Thursday he took shelter from the whiteout in an abandoned cabin along the trail. Then he trusted his dogs to find their way.