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Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Lead Changes on Frozen Yukon River

March 11, 1991

EAGLE ISLAND, Alaska (AP) _ Joe Runyan took the lead in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Sunday, arriving at this Yukon River checkpoint just 24 minutes ahead of defending champion Susan Butcher.

Butcher had led out of the last checkpoint at Grayling Saturday night, but the lead can change frequently on the flat, fast, windy stretch of trail that follows the frozen Yukon in central Alaska.

By the afternoon, at least 18 racers had bunched up at a wilderness cabin, the only dwelling at Eagle Island and the official race checkpoint. Bad weather and trail conditions were slowing the race.

″They’ve got some pretty grim weather conditions there,″ said race official Russ Wilmot in Anchorage. Blowing snow was causing whiteout conditions and temperatures were expected to drop to below zero Sunday night, he said.

Butcher, one of only two four-time Iditarod winners, arrived at Eagle Island with her team of 18 sled dogs at 11:54 a.m.

Lavon Barve came in four minutes later, and Kate Persons was just one minute behind him.

The Iditarod was in its ninth day Sunday. The race covers 1,163 miles between Anchorage and Nome and is called ″The Last Great Race on Earth.″

It usually lasts from 11 days to 14 days, with unpredictable Arctic weather often playing a critical role in setting the pace of the race in its final days.

Teams were 734 miles into the race when they reached Eagle Island. It is 70 miles from Eagle River to the next checkpoint at Kaltag, where mushers begin the push across the Kaltag Portage to Norton Sound on the west coast of Alaska.

There are no telephones at Eagle Island, and communications were slow between ham radio operators monitoring the race and Iditarod officials in Anchorage. It was not immediately known Sunday who was first out of Eagle Island.

Butcher had taken the lead Saturday at Anvik, 78 miles back from Eagle Island.

Runyan had arrived at Grayling, 60 miles back from Eagle Island, in fourth place. He won the 1989 Iditarod, and he finished second to Butcher last year.

Butcher, a four-time Iditarod winner, has said she hopes to break her race record of 11 days, 1 hour and 53 minutes, set last year.

The race is following its southern route this year, passing over remote mountains, tundra, frozen rivers and windswept, bitter-cold Bering Sea coast.

It commemorates a historic 1925 relay of diphtheria serum to ailing Nome residents during an epidemic.

The Iditarod got under way March 2 in downtown Anchorage with a record 75 mushers and more than 1,400 dogs.

By Sunday, one racer had been disqualified for accepting help from another musher. Seven mushers had scratched.

The winner will receive $50,000.

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