Nine-fingered musher still rides

By wire services
Published March 6, 2005

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Fearless, foolhardy or just plain stubborn, four-time champion Martin Buser cheerfully started the 1,100-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, a few days after the middle finger of his right hand was amputated above the second joint.

Buser loaded up on painkillers, antibiotics and anti-inflammatory pills, wore bandages and a special splint on his mangled hand - he also had stitches running the length of his ring finger and two stitches on his index finger from a table saw accident Tuesday - and stuffed it inside an oversized black mitten.

At the ceremonial start of the 33rd Iditarod, he was happily signing autographs - he's left-handed - and posing with fans on a sunny morning before setting off on a journey to Nome that is perilous even for mushers in the best of health.

The first day was easy, starting out on trucked-in snow downtown, then taking a slow run for 11 miles with reduced teams of 12 dogs hauling "Iditariders" who paid for the thrill. The race really gets going today with a restart from Willow, 70 miles north of the city. From there it's a danger-filled trail through steep gorges, along frozen rivers and over menacing mountain passes in subzero temperatures with howling winds.

Buser, 46, born in Switzerland and living in Alaska since 1979, is not in the race merely to finish, as are some of the other 78 mushers. This is his 22nd Iditarod, and he's out to claim the $75,000 top prize.

"First place is the expectation, with the realization that if my health deteriorates I'm going to have to regroup," said Buser, who last won in 2002 and is seeking to tie Rick Swenson's record of five victories.

Buser, who lost an inch and a half of his middle finger, is carrying various contraptions to get him through the race.

TENNIS: Davenport wins title

Top-seeded Lindsay Davenport fought off a break point late in the third set and beat Jelena Jankovic 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in the Dubai Women's Open final, her 46th WTA title. Davenport won the final three games of the match, which lasted 2 hours, 11 minutes, for her first title of the season. "It was a really tough match," Davenport said.

SKIING: Maier beats Miller

Hermann Maier won a World Cup downhill on Lillehammer's Olympic course at Kvitfjell, Norway, and American Bode Miller finished fourth and extended his points lead. Maier, one of the greatest downhillers of all time but a non-winner in Norway since 2001, covered the 3,035-meter Olympiabakken in 1 minute, 46.10 seconds. Mario Scheiber was runner-up for the second straight downhill, finishing 0.13 seconds behind. Miller, coming off two disappointing gate races last weekend in Slovenia where he scored no points, was 0.65 back as he improved his chances of becoming the first American since Phil Mahre in 1983 to win the overall title.

SOCCER: Maradona has surgery

Former soccer star Diego Maradona had stomach surgery at a clinic in Colombia to reduce his ballooning waistline. "The operation was carried out without any problems," Dr. Francisco Holguin said. Holguin said the operation to staple the Argentine's stomach, also known as a gastric bypass, lasted two hours. Since quitting professional soccer in 1997, Maradona, 44, has grown unrecognizably fat as he struggled with cocaine addiction.