- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 12, 2009

TAKOTNA, ALASKA (AP) - Four-time champion Martin Buser kept his Iditarod lead Thursday, and a Norwegian musher had to abandon the race after a sled accident that organizers said probably left him with internal injuries.

Buser was the first musher to reach Ophir, a trail checkpoint 687 miles from the finish in Nome. Buser arrived Wednesday afternoon and took his mandatory 24-hour layover in Ophir.

Six other mushers also had reached Ophir behind Buser, who won the 1,100-mile Iditarod in 1992, 1994, 1997 and 2002.

Norway’s Bjornar Andersen left the race Thursday further back on the trail in Takotna after his injury the previous day.

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 Thursday for Anchorage and further medical care.

The race began with 67 teams, and three have left. The front-runners are expected to finish next week.

John Anderson, the race judge in Takotna, said he knew something was wrong with Bjornar 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.”

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

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

“He is such a competitor,” the race judge said. “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.

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