Norwegian mushers a 'wild card' in 2014 Iditarod

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — If you thought mushing was limited to Americans and Canadians, you'd be wrong.

This year's Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race features a Swede and five Norwegians, including Robert Sorlie, the 2003 and 2005 champion.

A contingent of racing officials from Norway and Sweden visited Alaska last summer to look for ways to promote the sport even more in their countries.

Mushing also isn't limited to Arctic nations. This year's field also includes mushers from Australia, New Zealand and even Jamaica.

But of all those entries, it's the Norwegians who are causing the most worry for the North Americans. That's because they're tough, they're experienced, and they've been training in different conditions.

"They are a wild card, and I think that they'll be in there, and I think they will be players," veteran Alaska musher DeeDee Jonrowe said before the race. Jonrowe was among the first mushers forced to scratch because of poor trail conditions shortly after the race started Sunday in Willow.

She noted the Norwegians have been training in fluffy, deep snow, while Alaska mushers had hard-packed trails.

"That will either be a real advantage or perhaps a disadvantage for them," Jonrowe said.

Defending champion Mitch Seavey said this could be the year any number of mushers win the race, but he's keeping an eye on Sorlie, who is competing in only in his fifth Alaska race.

"He knows how to win the Iditarod," Seavey said.

Sorlie said the Iditarod is the world standard, and that's what has drawn so many Norwegians to Alaska this year.

"The biggest thing you can do as a long-distance musher is do this race," said Sorlie, of Hurdal, Norway.

Besides his two wins, the 56-year-old competed as a rookie in 2002, when he finished in ninth place. His other finish was in 2007, when he came in 12th.

He was running in fourth place Friday morning.

The other Norwegians competing are Yvonne Dabakk of Oslo, Tommy Jordbrudal of Longyearbyen, Joar Leifseth Ulsom of Mo i Rana, and Ralph Johannessen of Dagali.

Dabakk believes it's only a coincidence that so many Norwegians are competing this year.

"I think they all had the plan, and it was this year," the rookie said.

Jordbrudal said it also has become easier with some relaxed quarantine and vaccination rules for dogs coming to the United States. It's gotten slightly cheaper to fly the dog teams here, too, but "it's still awfully expensive," he said.

Jordbrudal expects Sorlie, Ulsom and Johannessen to be among the top mushers, and he wouldn't be surprised if all were in the top 10.

Allen Moore of Two Rivers, Alaska, said it will be a hard-fought race to the finish line under the famed burled arch on Front Street in Nome. A winner is expected early next week.

Of the Norwegian competitors, he said simply: "They're tough people, and they will do well in this race."

Moore is in the Iditarod after winning his second consecutive Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race. Many consider that event, another thousand-mile race that is run between Alaska and Canada, to be the toughest in the world.

His wife, Aliy Zirkle, is competing in the Iditarod with Moore's winning dog team from the Yukon Quest. Zirkle has finished second in the Iditarod the past two years.

"I'm sure they will be right up there with Aliy. Hopefully Aliy will be up there with them — either way," Moore said. "It will be a grind at the end.

"We'll see whose dogs are the toughest."

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