Mitch Seavey can finally stop looking over his shoulder. He is the winner of the 41st Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, beating second-place finisher, Aliy Zirkle, by only 24-minutes–the same lead he had over her at the race’s last checkpoint of Safety 3 hours and 2 minutes earlier. Zirkle kept up the pressure on Seavey to the very end, never quite making up ground from Safety, but never losing it either.
Seavey’s win was notable for a couple of reasons. First, it made the 53-year-old Seward native the oldest winning musher in Iditarod history. Before last night, Jeff King held that distinction with his 2006 win at age 50. Second, it is the first time a father and son have won back-to-back victories in the Iditarod. Mitch’s son Dallas won last year’s race (again over Zirkle) at the age of 25, becoming the youngest musher to win the coveted title.
So now the Seavey clan can boast about having both the oldest and the youngest Iditarod champions.
Seavey has always bristled when asked about the age issue, but it was clear after last night’s victory that he was proud of his accomplishment. “This is for all of the gentlemen of a certain age who think it ends at 50, because it doesn’t,” he told the cameras and crowd surrounding Nome’s famed Burled Arch.
Seavey reached the Burled Arch last night at 10:39pm (AKDT). His completion time was 9 days, 7 hours, 39 minutes, and 56 seconds. (John Baker holds the record for the fastest time with his 2011 win in 8 days, 18 hours, 46 minutes, and 39 seconds.) Aliy Zirkle’s completion time was 9 days, 8 hours, 3 minutes, and 35 seconds. Jeff King came in third, a little more than an hour after Zirkle, with a finish time of 9 days, 9 hours, 21 minutes, and 56 seconds.
All three mushers gave affectionate pats and hugs to their dogs after crossing the finish. Seavey’s lead dogs, Tanner and Taurus, joined him at the winner’s podium wearing yellow victory garlands. Zirkle’s dogs, ravenous after an energy-fueled finish, chowed down on snacks beneath the Burled Arch. The 57-year-old King, weary, and perhaps tiring of media questions, lay down on Front Street with his lead dog Skeeter as cameras flashed.
Dallas Seavey’s fourth place finish was impressive given that halfway through the race, in the ghost town of Iditarod, he was more than 8 hours behind then-leader Martin Buser. He jumped 8 places in the second half of the race. DeeDee Jonrowe managed to get her 16th top ten Iditarod finish by passing Aaron Burmeister on the last leg between Safety and Nome.
It was an exciting race, starting with Martin Buser’s unprecedented nonstop run to the Rohn checkpoint 188 miles from the start. The bold move gave Buser a more than 4- hour lead ahead of second place Matt Failor, who was running a team of Buser’s dogs and also following his strategy, and a more than 7-hour lead ahead of the rest of the pack. Buser and Failor took their 24-hour mandatory rests in Rohn and were bypassed by other mushers who took their breaks further down the trail. But by Iditarod, Buser had retaken the lead, while Failor faded. Coming into Anvik, Buser again had a 4-hour advantage.
However, during his Yukon River run, Buser lost a considerable amount of his once seemingly insurmountable lead, as he battled fierce headwinds, ice, and rain. Mitch Seavey, who had never been far from the pack behind Buser, was only a little more than an hour behind him coming into Kaltag. Seavey cut his rest short in Kaltag and left around the same time as Buser. Buser stopped several times outside of Kaltag to rest and was passed by a host of mushers, including Seavey, Aaron Burmeister, Jeff King, and Aliy Zirkle. His initial 4-hour lead was gone, and he was clearly slowing. By the time he reached Unalakleet, Buser was in tenth place.
Buser’s slowdown halfway through the race may have been a result of his fast push at the beginning, or it may have been due to a batch of bad water he gave his dogs at the Iditarod checkpoint. It will be interesting to hear Buser’s assessment of where he felt his strategy went wrong once he finishes the race. As of this writing, he is currently between Safety and Nome.
The race after Kaltag was every bit as exciting, with Mitch Seavey, running a race of fundamentals, holding the lead into Unalakleet. He stayed on top until Koyuk, where he took a nearly four hour rest, allowing Jeff King to briefly steal the lead before stopping to break 8 miles outside the Koyuk checkpoint. The two mushers ended their rests at approximately the same time, and Seavey, apparently with a little more in the tank, was able to regain the lead over the laboring King.
Zirkle also passed King to take second place. Cutting her rest short in Elim, she left less than an hour after Seavey and by White Mountain she was only 13 minutes from the lead. The race from White Mountain, where all mushers must take a mandatory 8-hour break, was basically the sled-dog equivalent of a drag race. Seavey extended his lead to 24 minutes going into Safety, but from Safety to Nome his lead stayed the same. It was one of the closest finishes in Iditarod history.
Here are the top ten Iditarod XLI finishers and their completion times:
- Mitch Seavey (9 days, 7 hours, 39 minutes, and 56 seconds)
- Aliy Zirkle (9 days, 8 hours, 3 minutes, 35 seconds)
- Jeff King (9 days, 9 hours, 21 minutes, 56 seconds)
- Dallas Seavey (9 days, 10 hours, 20 minutes, 51 seconds)
- Ray Redington Jr. (9 days, 11 hours, 4 minutes, 54 seconds)
- Nicolas Petit (9 days, 11 hours, 39 minutes, 13 seconds)
- Joar Leifseth Ulsom (9 days, 12 hours, 34 minutes, 0 seconds)
- Jake Berkowitz (9 days, 12 hours, 34 minutes, 16 seconds)
- Sonny Lindner (9 days, 13 hours, 11 minutes, 2 seconds)
- DeeDee Jonrowe (9 days, 13 hours, 24 minutes, 39 seconds)