8 Norwegians help pump up Iditarod field to 86 mushers

One of the biggest fields in history — one with a distinctly Norwegian flavor — has entered the 1,000-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race to Nome.

As the deadline for signing up for the 2016 race passed this week, the size of the field swelled to 86 mushers. Only the 2008 race was bigger, with 114 entries and 96 starters lining Fourth Avenue in Anchorage on the first Saturday in March. Afterward, race officials placed 100-team cap on the field.

So what does 86 mushers mean besides a mob in downtown Anchorage on March 5?

• An expected 1,376 dogs in harness for the actual start a day later, typically in Willow, when most mushers put the limit of 16 dogs in front of their sleds.

• Income of $252,000 from musher sign-ups at $3,000 a pop. However, DeeDee Jonrowe of Willow and Ellen Halverson of Wasilla earned a refund of their entry fees at a drawing at the Iditarod picnic in June.

• A bevy of champions with defending champion Dallas Seavey back along with his father Mitch Seavey and Robert Sorlie of Norway, both two-time winners. A trio of four-time champs — Jeff King, Martin Buser and, in a surprise, Lance Mackey — return too, along with John Baker of Kotzebue, the 2011 winner. Bolstering the championship pedigree are Yukon Quest victors Brent Sass (2015), Aliy Zirkle (2000), Hugh Neff (2012), Allen Moore (2013-14), and Hans Gatt (2002-04, 2010). Kuskokwim 300 champions Peter Kaiser (2015) and Rohn Buser (2012, 2014) also pump up the number of titleholders in the field.

Prepare for a Scandinavian invasion, with a record eight Norwegian mushers headed to Alaska for the world's richest sled-dog race. Sorlie, the only foreigner to win, heads a deep and talented Norwegian field that includes Dag Torulf Olsen, Joar Leifseth Ulsom, Sigrid Ekran, Tore Albrigtsen, Lars Monson, Ralph Johannessen and Geir Idar Hjelvik. Mats Pettersson, who was 25th last year, adds a Swedish touch to the Scandinavian contingent.

In March, Ulsom paced a three-musher Norwegian contingent with his sixth place finish. Sorlie, who won in 2003 and 2005, finished 21st two years ago, his last appearance.

Dallas Seavey will be seeking his fourth victory in the last five races — a string interrupted only by his father's 2013 title — and membership in the exclusive club of four-time champions. Rick Swenson of Two Rivers, the winningest Iditarod musher with five titles, hasn't raced since his 30th-place finish in 2012.

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Mike Campbell

Mike Campbell was a longtime editor for Alaska Dispatch News, and before that, the Anchorage Daily News.