FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) In just his second attempt at "The Last Great Race on Earth", Thomas Waerner, of Norway ran away with the 2020 Iditarod crown. After taking off from the Willow starting line on March 8, Waerner and his team of 10 dogs arrived at the Nome finish at 12:37 a.m. Wednesday morning, completing the 1,000-mile sled dog race in 9 days, 10 hours, 37 minutes and 47 seconds.
“The dogs are the performance athletes," Waerner told KTUU while celebrating with his lead dogs K2 and Bark. "We are the mushers and we get the credit and everything, but the dogs are incredible athletes.”
Waerner continued to gained separation as the miles dwindled down, reaching Nome nearly six hours before runner-up and three-time Iditarod champion Mitch Seavey (9 days, 16 hours, 15 minutes and 38 seconds).
"I think I had a good chance when I saw the weather forecast and all the snow coming, because I knew my dogs were really good in rougher conditions," Waerner added. "I was hoping for a little snow, so that was part of it when I said, 'okay, this can happen.'"
Waerner becomes the third Norwegian and fourth non-American to win the race in its 48-year history. Robert Sorlie (2003, 2005) and Leifseth Ulsom (2018) were the other champions hailing from Norway, while Martin Buser (Switzerland, 1992, 1994, 1997, 2002) was the other non-American to claim a title.
Waerner’s first attempt at the race came in 2015, where he won Rookie of the Year after completing the race in 9 days, 18 hours, 10 minutes and 20 seconds, good for 17th overall.
Fairbanks' Jessie Royer (9d, 17h, 47m, 16s) took third place, her best finish in 17 attempts. The 2020 Yukon Quest champion, Brent Sass (9d, 18h, 57m, 47s), claimed fourth, the best placement of his Iditarod career. Sass came up short of becoming just the second musher to win the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod in the same year, when Lance Mackey completed the feat in 2007.
Aaron Burmeister (9d, 19h, 18m, 53s) , who first took on the race in 1994, placed fifth, while Leifseth Ulsom (9d, 19h, 48m, 41s) grabbed sixth. Paige Drobny (9d, 19h, 54m, 35s) also had a career-best performance, claiming seventh after finishing no better than 25th her previous four races. Representing Skagway, Ryan Redington, who earned a career-best eighth place finish after completing the race in 9 days, 20 hours, 40 minutes and 58 seconds, on his 12th attempt. Travis Beals (9d, 21h, 11m, 11s), of Seward, rounded out the top 10, after placing fifth last year.
This year's Rookie of the Year honors goes to Mille Prosild, of Denmark, who completed the race in 10 days, 1 hour, 43 minutes and 15 seconds, good for 15th overall.
Complete race standings can be found at https://iditarod.com/race/2020/standings/