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Norwegian firefighter wins Iditarod

NOME, Alaska — Norwegian firefighter Robert Sorlie won the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, fighting wind and cold toward the finish of a more than nine-day trek.

The 45-year-old musher waved to hundreds of cheering spectators early Thursday as he led his eight-dog team to victory at 1:47 a.m. He finished ahead of Ramy Brooks and three-time Iditarod champion Jeff King.

"I'm feeling very well," Sorlie said before he hugged his wife, Elin Pedersen, in the winner's circle.

It was only the second time Sorlie had made the 1,100-mile trip from Anchorage to Nome, a town of 3,500 along the frozen Bering Sea.

Sorlie is the second non-Alaskan to win the Iditarod and the second winner born outside the United States. Doug Swingley of Lincoln, Mont., won four times and Martin Buser, a Swiss native who has lived in Alaska more than 20 years, became a U.S. citizen after winning his fourth Iditarod last year.

Sorlie finished in nine days, 15 hours, 47 minutes. He will take home $68,571 and a new truck.

"That truck is mine," he said before leaving the village of White Mountain on Wednesday afternoon for the 77-mile home stretch to Nome. Brooks conceded victory to Sorlie when he left the checkpoint 1 1/2 hours behind the Norwegian.

"It was a tough trail between White Mountain and Nome — wind, cold, much wind-blown snow," Sorlie said. "But I'm feeling good now."

Sorlie was the first musher into the White Mountain checkpoint, where teams are required to take an eight-hour layover before heading for Nome.

Sorlie is a three-time champion of Norway's premier long-distance sled dog race, the 600-mile Finnmarkslopet. Last year he finished ninth in the Iditarod, to set a rookie record.

Sixty-four mushers entered this year's Iditarod, which had a $600,000 purse. By late Wednesday, 49 mushers were still in the race.

A lack of snow south of the Alaska range and warm weather forced race officials to change the route of this year's race. Instead of canceling the entire event, the race's restart — where the real racing begins — was moved north to Fairbanks.

The new route was 70 miles longer than the traditional trail and followed terrain that even veteran mushers weren't familiar with. Then last weekend, race organizers decided to drop the last leg of the route between Anvik and Shageluk because of poor trail conditions. That cut about 50 miles from the route.

The changes were the most drastic since the race between Anchorage and Nome began in 1973.

The initial route change was praised by some animal rights groups, who noted race officials' acknowledgment toward the dogs' safety and health. Other rights groups continue to criticize the race, however, even though scores of veterinarians examine the teams throughout the race.

Buser was running in fourth place and Ken Anderson was fifth. In sixth place was John Baker, followed two minutes later by Linwood Fiedler.

Completing the top 10 were Ramey Smyth, Ed Iten and Sonny Lindner. All had left Elim on Wednesday night.