We Have a Winner in Alaska! Waerner, a Norwegian, Captures the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race 

Thomas Waerner mushes into Unalakleet, Alaska, Sunday, March 15, 2020 during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. He went on to win the race. (Loren Holmes/Anchorage Daily News via AP)

Norwegian Musher Thomas Waerner won the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on March 18, finishing at 12:37 a.m. with a team of 10 dogs.

According to Alaska Public Media, this is Waerner’s first Iditarod win and only his second try. He won Rookie of the Year honors in 2015, when he placed 17th.

“Waerner took control of the 2020 Iditarod more than halfway into the race with his 12-hour run from Kaltag to Unalakleet. For the rest of the race, he ran 20 or more miles in front of his nearest competitor,” AKPM reported. “He left White Mountain on Tuesday afternoon with a five-hour lead over the next team, three-time Iditarod champion Mitch Seavey.”

The temperature was around 30 degrees when Waerner crossed the finish line with his two lead dogs, K2 and Bark.

“‘The dogs are the performance athletes. We are the mushers and we get the credit and everything, but the dogs are incredible athletes,’ Waerner told the press. ‘Every time I look at the team it’s just amazing how they can perform, how they are able to do it, and being happy about it.’”

The coronavirus impacted the race because checkpoints had to be moved out of the small towns, which were then closed to visitors. Race-related events were cancelled, including the finish-line finale in Nome.

Waerner’s wife, Guro, was supposed to meet him at the finish line but flew back to Norway early to be with the couple’s five children. Neither are sure when he’ll be able to return to Norway.

Waerner, who owns a sled dog kennel in Synnfjell, Norway, will receive about $51,000 in prize money and a 2020 Ram 1500 4×4 pickup truck ($40,000 value) for his victory.

The 2020 Iditarod was notable for trench-deep snow across the Alaska Range and a soft, warm trail along the Yukon River. Mushers faced temperatures from 40-below zero at the beginning of the race to temperatures around freezing point from Galena on.

Waerner won the race in 9 days and 11 hours. Seavey and his 10-dog team arrived in Nome at 6:15 a.m. Jessie Royer and her 12 dogs were third at 7:47 a.m. and Brent Sass and his 13 dogs placed fourth at 8:57 a.m.

The start of the 2011 Alaska Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. (Photo by John Pennell/JBER PAO)

Fun Facts about the Iditarod:

MEANING: According YP James Kasri, assistant professor at the University of Alaska Native Language Center: “The name Iditarod came from an Ingalik and Holikachuk word Hidehod for the Iditarod River. This name means distant or distant place.”

RACE ORIGIN: The first Iditarod race was held on March 3, 1973 with 34 teams; 22 teams finished, starting 32 days later.

CONSECUTIVE WINNERS: Susan Butcher, Martin Buser, Doug Swingley, Jeff King, Lance Mackey and Dallas Seavey have each won four Iditarod championships. Mackey is the only musher to have won four consecutive races; Butcher, Swingley and Seavey have all won three straight.

DOG FOOD: On the trail, dogs need about 10,000 calories daily.

SPORTSMANSHIP AWARD:  This award was initiated in 1977 by the Alaska Native Brotherhood to honor Native musher Ken Chase. The ANB continued to present the Ken Chase Sportsmanship Award through 1982. Since then, the award has been presented by the Iditarod Trail Committee, and various other sponsors, to the person chosen by his/her peers as the best sportsman on the trail. In 2015, Donlin Gold began sponsoring the award. The winner receives a $3,000 check and a commemorative trophy.

MOST IMPROVED AWARD: The concept for an award to the most improved musher began in 1987 when the mushers honored Ted English. He had finished 18th in his second race and eighth the following year. The winner receives $2,000 in cash and a commemorative trophy.

TOP ROOKIE: A rookie is defined as a musher racing his/her first Iditarod. The top-placing rookie receives a beautiful trophy, along with a check for $2,000.

RED LANTERN AWARD: This is given to the last place finisher in a sled dog race. “It started as a joke but has become a symbol of sticking-it-out in the mushing world,” said Earl Norris. “The idea was that the last fellow was so far behind, he needed to light his way home. In this tradition, the Iditarod Trail Committee awards a red lantern to the last musher off the trail.”

WIDOW’S LAMP AWARD: According to historical records, during the days of Alaska sled dog freighting and mail carrying, dog drivers relied on a series of roadhouses between their village destinations. Since mushers ventured out in all kinds of weather, word was relayed ahead that a musher and team were on the trail. A kerosene lamp was lit and hung outside the roadhouse.

The light not only helped the dog driver find his destination at night, but also signified that a team was somewhere out on the trail. The lamp was not extinguished until the musher safely reached his destination.

In keeping with that tradition, the Iditarod Trail Committee annually lights a “Widow’s Lamp” in Nome at the start of the race. The lamp remains lit as long as there are mushers still on the trail. When the last dog sled crosses the finish line, officials extinguish the “Widow’s Lamp” signifying the official end of the race.


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One Response to We Have a Winner in Alaska! Waerner, a Norwegian, Captures the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race 

  1. Dee says:

    Sue: Thanks for some non-virus news. Loved the story and pictures.

    Stay safe.

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