- The Washington Times - Friday, March 13, 2009

TAKOTNA, ALASKA (AP) - Two-time defending champion Lance Mackey was the first musher into the Iditarod checkpoint _ a once bustling gold mining town, now abandoned and ghostly _ to take the lead halfway into the 1,100-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

Mackey arrived in Iditarod Thursday evening to overtake Aaron Burmeister, who had been leading, and several other mushers, including Hugh Neff and Sebastian Schnuelle.

For arriving first, Mackey receives a trophy and $3,000 in gold nuggets.

Four-time champion Martin Buser, who had been leading out of the Takotna checkpoint, took his mandatory 24-hour rest in Ophir. He fell from first to 24th place as other teams who had already completed the requirement continued on the trail.

By Thursday night, nearly all the teams in the front half of the field had completed the 24-hour requirement while most toward the back had yet to do it.

The race began on Sunday with 67 teams. Three have scratched. Rookies Kim Darst and Rob Loveman were bringing up the rear.

The winner is expected to arrive in Nome next week.

Earlier on Thursday, Norwegian musher Bjornar Andersen was forced to abandon the race after a sled accident that organizers said probably left him with internal injuries.

The extent of his injuries was not immediately known, race spokesman Chas St. George said. Andersen was taken by a small airplane to McGrath, where he boarded a commercial flight for Anchorage and further medical care.

John Anderson, the race judge in Takotna, said he knew something was wrong with Andersen when he arrived in 14th place, well behind where he should have been, given his strong dog team.

“He had a real bad crash coming out of Rohn,” Anderson said. “His sled tipped, he body-slammed.”

The race judge said the musher was examined by a physician at the Takotna checkpoint, who is “pretty sure that he has some internal injuries.”

Andersen complained about abdominal pain and decided to leave the competition rather than face an uncertain future on a 150-mile of tough trail ahead after Takotna, the race judge said. The musher’s uncle, Robert Sorlie, is a former Iditarod champion.

“He is such a competitor,” the race judge said of Andersen. “He really didn’t want to scratch, but he knew it was the right thing to do.”

Race marshal Mark Nordman also visited the musher before the decision was made.

____

On the Net:

http://www.iditarod.com

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