Hanna Lyrek of Alta in Northern Norway must have felt right at home as she urged on her dogs during the 500-kilometer event in the annual Finnmarksløpet dogsled race. She became the youngest ever to win, and is thus Norway’s new national champion.
The tough race over the wide open expanse of the Finnmark plateau known as Finnmarksvidda runs for 570 kilometers. Lyrek started the last leg from the checkpoint at Karasjok 10 minutes behind veteran musher Harald Tunheim, age 60. At that point, they were 132 kilometers from the finish line in Lyrek’s hometown of Alta.
By the time they reached Jotka, the last checkpoint in the race, there was only a minute between them. “I saw his headlight across the vidda and could tell I was getting closer,” Lyrek told race organizers, “but I wasn’t right behind him until just before the Jotka lodge.”
She and her team of dogs then sailed past him. “I yelled ‘hi’ to her and commented that she had fine speed,” Tunheim said. He was clearly impressed by the young musher.
“Hanna belongs to a whole new generation of mushers who are born into the sport,” Tunheim said after they’d both finished and he’d congratulated her on a historic victory.
Lyre debuted in the Finnmarksløpet’s junior class at the age of 14 and won second place in 2015. She’s been described as one of the sport’s greatest talents. She was busy praising her dogs, though, telling state broadcaster NRK that “I had such good dogs, just great.”
The last leg of the race from Karasjok to Alta is generally expected to take around 11 hours, but both Lyrek and Tunheim ran it in just over nine, with Lyrek crossing the finish line just before 5am after being up all night.
The longer distance of Finnmarksløpet, 1,200 kilometers, was still underway on Tuesday, after the racers ended their obligatory 16-hour rest period, most of them in Tana or Neiden. Results of that race were viewed as wide open.