Norwegian musher Thomas Waerner has won the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race across Alaska – one of the few US sporting events not cancelled by concerns over the coronavirus.
Waerner crossed the finish line in Nome, Alaska, early on Wednesday morning.
The 46-year-old musher won the Iditarod in only his second attempt. He finished 17th in 2015, when he was named Rookie of the Year.
2020 Iditarod Champion Thomas Waerner and lead dogs K2 and Bark. pic.twitter.com/jflQvKhMbj— Iditarod Insider Nation (@IditarodInsider) March 18, 2020
Waerner took command of this year’s race in the late stages and steadily built an insurmountable lead.
The closest musher to Waerner was three-time champion Mitch Seavey, who was about five hours behind.
He becomes the third Norwegian to win the Iditarod. Joar Leifseth Ulsom won the 2018 race and Robert Sorlie took the title twice, in 2003 and 2005.
Waerner, who lives in Torpa, Norway, also won the 745-mile Finnmarkslopet, the longest sled dog race in Europe, in 2019.
The Iditarod began on March 8 just north of Anchorage for 57 mushers, the second-smallest field in two decades.
They crossed two mountain ranges and mushed on the frozen Yukon River before reaching the Bering Sea. Since the race started, 11 mushers have withdrawn from the race.
Fears over the new coronavirus prompted changes along the trail for race officials. They asked fans not to fly to Nome for the finish after the city, like many in Alaska, closed public buildings.
In some other villages, which serve as checkpoints along the nearly 1,000-mile course, official check-in points were moved outside the communities to limit contact.
In one case, the checkpoint was held on the Yukon River.
An animal welfare group took the credit for two sponsors announcing they would drop sponsorship.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) claims more than 150 dogs have died horrible deaths running the Iditarod since it began in 1973.
The Iditarod disputes that number but has declined to provide its own count.
Alaska Airlines announced before the race started it would end its four-decade long financial support, citing a change in the company’s corporate giving strategy.
On Monday, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said its Anchorage Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram dealership would no longer sponsor the race.
Peta pressures race sponsors to drop out, often conducting protests outside corporate headquarters. The group claims it carried out demonstrations in Seattle at the airline and in Detroit for the car maker.
The Anchorage dealership was one of the Iditarod’s top-tier sponsors and has for 30 years provided a large chunk of the winner’s prize – a new pick-up truck.
Officials have not announced the amount in this year’s purse, but the cash prizes have shrunk in the last few years.
Seavey won 71,250 dollars (£58,646) for winning the 2017 race, while 2019 champion Pete Kaiser only received 51,299 dollars (£42,224).
“This is a money-spending sport,” Waerner said when accepting a 2,500 dollar (£2,057) cheque from a sponsor on Monday for being the first musher to reach the checkpoint in White Mountain, Alaska.