Rohn Buser dethroned the king of the Kusko 300 on Sunday, denying nine-time champion Jeff King a 10th title while claiming his second crown in three years.
Buser, 24, beat King, 57, to the Bethel finish line by seven minutes to win the 300-mile sled-dog race.
Victory was worth $22,000 for Buser, who finished with a team of 10 dogs.
Buser arrived in Bethel at 9:18 a.m. Sunday, with King not far behind, finishing at 9:25.
“I figured he would catch me, so I had to push it a little bit,” Buser told KYUK radio at the finish line. “My guys, they went fast.”
Leading the team across the finish line was a grey husky named Flash, a veteran of Buser’s 2012 championship team.
It was the second win in two races this winter for Buser, a Big Lake musher who topped the Knik 200 earlier this month.
King, a four-time Iditarod champion from Denali Park, owned a 13-minute lead out of Kalskag on Saturday night but ran into trouble when his team veered off the trail because of what KYUK described as poor trail marking.
Usually in the Kusko, “you turn your light on and you see reflectors,” King told KYUK. “When I pulled out over the bank, it was just black and slippery and (my team) ended up in a big ball.”
He spent precious time getting things sorted out on the ice.
“My snaps were covered with ice and I couldn’t get them untangled, and Rohn zoomed right by,” King said.
Buser arrived in Tuluksak shortly after midnight and four minutes ahead of King. After a mandatory four-hour layover, Buser began the 50-mile run to Bethel at 4:16 a.m. Sunday. King followed at 4:20.
Buser and King finished some 90 minutes ahead of the chase pack, led by third-place Cim Smyth, who finished at 10:55 a.m.
Paul Gebhardt followed at 11 a.m., Joar Ulsom at 11:09 and Jake Berkowitz at 11:18. Then came another gap before Ken Anderson pulled in at 12:51 p.m. to claim seventh place.
King, who was seeking his 10th Kusko title and his second in a row, earned $16,500 for his runnerup finish. Smyth took home $11,000 from a purse of $110,000.
Mild temperatures meant mushers faced wet, slippery conditions — King told KYUK the water was a foot deep in some places. It was so slushy that race officials moved the course off the Kuskokwim River for the first stretch of racing.
“We had everything but cold,” King said. “I never even put my hat on.”
Reach Beth Bragg at email@example.com or 257-4335.
Anchorage Daily News / adn.com