Dallas Seavey won his second Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race early yesterday, taking the lead just hours before crossing the finish line.
Seavey, 27, was the first musher to reach the famed burled arch finish line in Nome, Alaska.
The 2012 champion raced at a blistering pace for the final 124km to catch the two mushers in front of him: four-time champion Jeff King and Aliy Zirkle, who finished in second place only several minutes after Seavey.
Zirkle, 44, also finished second in 2012 and last year, and was poised for a storybook ending yesterday when she became the first musher to reach the Safety checkpoint, 35km from the finish line.
Had she won, Zirkle would have become the first woman to win the gruelling event in 24 years.
The last woman to win the race was four-time champion Susan Butcher in 1990, while Libby Riddles was the first-ever female winner, taking the crown in 1985.
King had held an hour’s lead on Zirkle early on Monday and seemed to be headed to a record-tying fifth win, but late on Monday evening, his GPS unit did not indicate any movement for hours as Zirkle steadily gained on him before eventually passing him just outside Safety, on the Bering Sea coast.
King has won the Iditarod in 1993, 1996, 1998 and 2006, with Rick Swenson of Two Rivers the race’s only five-time champion.
King had been looking to become the Iditarod’s oldest champion, breaking the record currently held by Dallas Seavey’s father, Mitch Seavey, who was 53 when he won last year.
Dallas Seavey already holds the record for being the youngest champion ever when he won the 2012 event at the age of 25 and comes from a mushing family. His grandfather, Dan Seavey, helped organize the first Iditarod race in 1973 and his father won the nearly 1,600km race across Alaska twice, first in 2006 and then last year, when he became the oldest champion.
Dallas Seavey is also a champion wrestler. In 2003, he became Alaska’s first-ever junior champion, winning the 56.7kg title.
The musher is also a participant on the reality television series Ultimate Survival Alaska.
Despite his role on the show, Dallas Seavey has said that he is something of a hermit and does not own a television, so the only time he sees an episode of the program is when he downloads it on his computer.
“I don’t leave my training compound if I can help it,” he said. “If I leave, it’s by dog team, not by vehicle.”
The trail this year was marked by poor conditions because of a lack of snow after a warm winter by Alaskan standards.
A number of mushers were injured at the beginning of the race as their sleds ran on gravel near the Dalzell Gorge.
One musher, Scott Janssen of Anchorage, Alaska, had to be rescued by a US National Guard helicopter crew after breaking an ankle.
Snowless conditions again greeted mushers as they reached the western coast of the US’ largest state.
The race began on March 2 in Willow with 69 teams. As of Monday morning, 15 mushers had dropped out and one had withdrawn, leaving 53 teams on the trail.
The winner of the Iditarod receives US$50,000 and a new truck, with the following 29 teams receiving cash prizes decreasing on a sliding scale and all other teams who finish the race bagging US$1,049.
John Baker holds the fastest finish in Iditarod history, covering the trail from Anchorage to Nome in eight days, 18 hours and 46 minutes in 2011.