4-time champion crowned in U.P. 200

MARQUETTE – For the first time in its 24-year history, the top spot in the U.P. 200 Sled Dog Championship was awarded to the same musher four years in a row.

“It feels pretty good,” said champion Ryan Anderson at the U.P. 200 awards breakfast this morning. “The whole time through I was focusing on what was best for my dog team, and whatever happened in the race happened.”

Crossing the finish line in Mattson Lower Harbor Park at 12:58:07 p.m. Sunday, Anderson finished the final leg of the race 11 minutes faster than any other musher on the trail.

And he did it with just eight dogs.

Forced to drop dogs along the trail due to injury and other circumstances, Anderson found himself with only nine dogs left in the 12-dog race at the Grand Marais checkpoint.

Already at a disadvantage, Anderson thought he’d have to complete the race three dogs down, until he had to drop one more at the Wetmore checkpoint.

But the small team didn’t slow him down enough for his competitors to catch up, and Anderson captured his fourth consecutive U.P. 200 championship title.

He attributes the win to an outstanding team of dogs.

“They’re young yet, but I think it’s possibly the best dog team I’ve ever had,” Anderson said this morning. “They’re just inexperienced yet, so when you get all them young dogs to the finish line, it’s better for the future. I saw a lot of dogs grow up this weekend.”

Coming in second place was Keith Aili, finishing at 1:13:07 p.m. The final leg of the race took him sevenhours, 44 minutes to complete.

While Anderson made history Sunday with his fourth consecutive win, he was tied with Aili up until that point as the only two mushers to hold three consecutive U.P. 200 titles.

Aili won the 240-mile Iditarod-qualifying race in 1998, 1999 and 2000 and returned to sled dog racing this year after a six-year hiatus.

Both Anderson and Aili are from Ray, Minn.

Placing third was Ryan Redington, of Wasilla, Alaska, who finished at 1:13:29 p.m. Sunday. The final leg of the race took him seven hours, 55 minutes.

The Red Lantern award – given to the musher who finishes in last place – was given to Ward Wallin, of Two Harbors, Minn. He finished at 5:11:09 p.m., finishing the last leg of the race in nine hours, 11 minutes.

Though 17 mushers left the starting gate Friday night as thousands of spectators cheered them on, only 11 mushers greeted the crowd waiting for them at the finish line.

With the 24th running of the U.P. 200 all said and done, Anderson said he’s looking to come back next year to defend his title.

“I’ll be back next year,” Anderson said. “I don’t know if I’ll win five in a row, but I’ll be sure to try.”

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.