Mitch Seavey, the 2004 winner, became the oldest champion of Alaska’s famed 1,600km Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, one year after his son clinched the title as the youngest-ever champion.
Seavey, aged 53, and 10 dogs crossed the finish line just 24 minutes ahead of runner-up Aliy Zirkle, who was bidding to become only the third woman to win the race and the first to win since 1990, when Susan Butcher claimed her fourth championship.
“This is for all of the gentlemen of a certain age,” Seavey said after crossing the finish line in Nome to cheering crowds on Tuesday night.
His victory came after a dueling sprint against Zirkle, last year’s runner-up, along the frozen, wind-whipped Bering Sea coast toward Nome. The pair jostled for the lead, with Zirkle never more than a few kilometers behind. Also trailing by a dozen or so kilometers was four-time champion Jeff King.
Seavey, who first won the Iditarod in 2004, is the father of last year’s champion, Dallas Seavey, who at age 25 became the youngest Iditarod winner ever and who beat Zirkle to the finish line by one hour.
Before Mitch Seavey’s second win, King was the oldest Iditarod champion, winning his fourth race at age 50 in 2006.
The oldies were still stellar performers in a race that ended last year with a top field featuring many finishers in their 20s and 30, Iditarod race spokeswoman Erin McLarnon said.
“Last year we saw a lot of those youngsters in the top 10,” McLarnon said. “Some of those 45-plussers are taking back the lead this year. They are showing the young ’uns what they can really do out there on that trail.”
Before this year’s race, Zirkle noted the long time that had passed since a woman won.
“This is my 13th year, and I’ve wanted to win every year,” she said before the race, which began on March 2 with 66 teams at a ceremonial start in Anchorage.
The competitive part of the race began the following day in Willow, 80km to the north. Since then, the race changed leaders several times, with frontrunners leapfrogging each other. Those at the front of the field included four-time champions Lance Mackey and Martin Buser, who later fell behind.
En route to Nome, the race turned into an aggressively contested run among veterans.
Conditions on the Yukon River required dogs to go through deep snow and navigate glare ice. Above-freezing temperatures also led to overflow along the trail, a potentially dangerous situation where water has pushed up through the ice and refrozen, creating a weak top layer of ice that teams and mushers can break through.
For reaching Nome first, Seavey wins US$50,400 and a new 2013 Dodge Ram pickup truck. The rest of the US$600,000 purse will be split among the next 29 mushers to cross the finish line.