Iditarod champion musher Swingley says he's retiring from this race

Posted: Tuesday, March 05, 2002

RAINY PASS (AP) -- Lagging far behind the top competitors, Montana champion dog musher Doug Swingley said Tuesday he's retiring from the competition in this year's Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

''This is my victory lap,'' the four-time Iditarod winner said shortly after arriving at the Rainy Pass checkpoint Tuesday morning. ''I'm retiring from competitive racing. You won't see me up front anymore.

''I've done what I set out to do.''

Swingley, of Lincoln, Mont., said he'll continue the race, but he won't be striving for the winner's circle in this year's run.

Swingley, who won the last three Iditarods, was far back in a field of 62 mushers only three days into the 1,100-mile race to Nome. He had baffled race watchers on Monday by arriving at Finger Lake just after noon and settling in as other mushers passed him by.

Swingley's strategy has been to go as far as possible in the race before taking his mandatory 24-hour break. In past races, that strategy has put him well ahead of the other top teams and back on the trail with a rested team to build an insurmountable lead in the second half.

Some suspected the 48-year-old Swingley was playing a wily strategy against the other mushers. He hinted as much, saying that he was ''sandbagging,'' a slang term to mean

? aside -- for now, at least.

''I'm seeing people I haven't seen in a long time and having a great time just running my puppies,'' he said. ''I'm just taking a sabbatical.

''Maybe next year I'll run the (Yukon) Quest or something like that.''

Swingley's words were a complete turnaround from the stance he took less than a week ago. Just before the Iditarod started, Swingley was confident about his bid for an unprecedented fourth straight victory in the Iditarod.

''I think everybody knows it's going to take somebody doing something special to beat me,'' he said Friday.

At the time, Swingley said he wasn't planning any changes to his race. ''If it isn't broke don't fix it,'' he said.

On Tuesday, Swingley said he actually decided in December to run an easy race this time around. He didn't let on, he said, because he ''didn't want the other mushers to slack off.''

Willow musher Linwood Fiedler, runner-up last year and among the Iditarod leaders Tuesday, said he believed Swingley.

''If that's what he says, it's probably what's happening. I hadn't really thought about it much,'' Fiedler said as he cooked his dogs' midday meal and tended to his gear. ''I'd be fun to have a year not to race and to enjoy the trail. I would take him at his word.''

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