Norwegian musher has commanding lead in Iditarod race

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Joar Ulsom said a few words in English but used his native Norwegian to heap praise on his dog team Tuesday as he arrived at the second-to-last checkpoint in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

Ulsom held a commanding lead in the world’s most famous sled dog race, and after a mandatory eight-hour rest, he was hours from the finish line in Nome.

He arrived in White Mountain just before 8 a.m., and left shortly before 4 p.m. For being first to the checkpoint, he picked up a US$2,500 check.

“Wow, that’s fantastic,” he told sponsors in a video posted on the Iditarod website.

Then he switched to his native tongue to speak to each of his dogs before laying out straw over the snow for them to bed down for a snooze.

Ulsom arrived in the checkpoint with a nearly three-hour lead on the second place musher, Nic Petit, a native of France living south of Anchorage.

Barring any catastrophes, Ulsom, a native of Norway who has been living in Willow, Alaska, the dog mushing capital of the United States, is on track to reach the finish line sometime early Wednesday. The winner will be awarded about $50,000 and a new pickup.

If Ulsom wins, he will become the third Iditarod winner born outside the United States. Martin Buser, a Swiss native who has lived in Alaska more than three decades, became a U.S. citizen after winning his fourth Iditarod in 2002. Another Norwegian, Robert Sorlie, won the race in 2003 and 2005.

Defending champion Mitch Seavey is in third place. If he doesn’t win, it will be the first time since 2011 that Seavey or his son, Dallas, hasn’t won the race. In a video on the Iditarod website, Seavey cited slow trail conditions.

“I trained for a whole different kind of race,” he said.

Dallas Seavey, a four-time champion, withdrew from this year’s Iditarod in protest after race organizers said his dog team tested positive for an opioid painkiller after last year’s race, when he finished second. Seavey denied giving his drugs tramadol, and decided to run a race in Norway instead of the Iditarod.

Sixty-seven mushers began the nearly 1,609-kilometre race across the Alaska wilderness March 4 in Willow. Since then, eight mushers have scratched.

Michelle Phillips was the top Canadian, sitting 18th. She was trailed by countrymen Aaron Peck (37th), Bradley Farquhar (45th), Peter Fleck (47th), Rob Cooke (53rd), Magnus Kaltenborn (55th), and Marcelle Fressineau (57th).

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