Thomas Wærner, a 40-year-old musher from the mountains of Synnfjell in Oppland County, relished weekend celebrations after he logged what commentators called a decisive victory in this year’s 1,000-kilometer Finnmarksløpet, the long-distance sled dog race over much of Finnmark County in northern Norway.
Wærner rode back into the far northern city of Alta on Friday morning, well ahead of his rivals and a full day ahead of the awards ceremony scheduled for Saturday. He and his team of dogs had covered the course from Alta east towards Tana bru and Kirkenes and back to Alta via Karasjok in just over five days.
“Winning Finnmarksløpet has been a dream the whole time,” Wærner told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) at the finish line. “I decided not to have any excuses when starting this race. You just have to try hard.”
He and the other mushers and dog teams had to brave temperatures that dipped below minus-40C during the week and Wærner surprised some by opting to take his 16-hour break along the way relatively early, at Tana bru. That seemed to have given both him and his dogs more energy later in the race, and he overtook rivals Arnt Ola Skjerve and Inger-Marie Haaland.
As the race’s official website finnmarkslopet.no (external link) noted, Wærner and his team took another albeit much shorter break at Varangerbotn, with “proper food” for the dogs and a two-hour rest on the straw. “This break would prove to be decisive for the outcome of the race,” reported finnmarkslopet.no. Wærner seemed to have little trouble on the Tana River, arrived first at Karasjok and had a triumphant run towards Jotka and back to Alta.
His wife Birgitte Wærner, also a well-known musher in Norway, was waiting for him at the finish line after providing support through the race. She placed third in it herself in 2011 and told NRK she’s still dreaming of heading to Alaska for a year with their family and taking part in the famous Iditarod race. The couple runs a kennel at Synnfjell and have two sons, aged three and 10.
The prestigious Finnmarksløpet has a shorter version of 500 kilometers, where mushers can have a team of maximum eight dogs as opposed to the 14 allowed in the 1,000-kilometer race. The 500K was won this year by Milos Gonda, age 35, of Slovakia. He was said to be a surprise winner as a rookie, but impressed organizers with average speeds varying from 12.6 to 18 kilometers per hour.
Wærner won a cash prize of NOK 65,000, an all-terrain vehicle, a trophy and a bottle of Finnmarkløpet’s wine and reportedly looked forward to a warm dinner and hotel room in Alta.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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