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Dogs raring to go at the ceremonial start
Published March 5, 2006
ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Dog teams in the Iditarod's ceremonial start Saturday didn't care that the clock wasn't running.
They just wanted to race.
Canine competitors from this year's field of 83 teams yelped and howled, begging to run as handlers halted them at the starting line.
Some strained forward in their harnesses in fruitless attempts to pull their sleds and furred teammates past Fourth Avenue's downtown storefronts toward the fog-veiled Chugach Mountains.
None seemed to care about conserving energy for the more than 1,100 miles to Nome.
"They're pretty excited," said Ed Iten, runnerup last year. "Racing is what they're thinking about."
The 11-mile ceremonial start gives spectators a chance to view dog teams up close and hobnob with their favorite mushers. Hundreds leaned over wood-slatted fences along the sidewalks to watch dog teams as they passed over streets padded with snow trucked in from the city's snow dumps. Others watched from a six-story parking garage.
Pete Olhasso of Temecula, Calif., brought a group of 180 people from 12 countries to Alaska for a ski trip, and made sure to tack on this extra day.
"This is once-in-a-lifetime," said Olhasso of the International Skiing Fellowship of Rotarians. "I thought it would be neat to have everyone from around the world come and see the start of the Iditarod."
The official start takes place today, 65 miles north in Willow. The town is serving as a stand-in for the third straight year because of scarce snow in the traditional start town of Wasilla, 25 miles down the trail. In 2003, the restart was moved more than 300 miles north to Fairbanks because of too little snow.
The race, in its 34th year, commemorates a dogsled relay in 1925 that carried serum 674 miles from Nenana to Nome to stop a diphtheria outbreak.
This year's top 30 finishers can expect to split a $795,000 pot. Another $40,000 will be divvied up among the remaining arrivals to Nome. The winner will pocket $69,000 and receive a new pickup valued at almost $45,000. Last year's pot totaled about $737,000.
Top finishers usually vie to arrive in Nome in nine to 10 days, forgoing sleep, and often sanity, to complete the trek.
The field includes two four-time winners and the Iditarod's only five-time champ. Doug Swingley of Lincoln, Mont., and Martin Buser of Big Lake will be looking to match the record set by Rick Swenson of Two Rivers. Jeff King of Denali is looking for his fourth win.
Last year's champion, Robert Sorlie of Norway, is leaving the race up to his nephew, Bjornar Andersen, whose fourth-place finish last year was the highest ever for a rookie.
Sorlie said he is rotating Iditarod runs with Andersen, also of Norway, and one other musher, but said he'll be back.
"I'm a tourist this year," Sorlie said. "Next year I will do the race."