Mitch Seavey has captured another championship in the Iditarod XLI Trail Sled Dog Race, covering nearly 1,000 miles from Willow to the burled arch in Nome, after an intense showdown with last year’s runner-up.
The 53-year-old Seavey, of Seward, checked in first around 10:39 p.m. Tuesday, marking his second victory. Seavey and his 10 dogs crossed the finish line on Front Street ahead of contender Aliy Zirkle.
The showdown began Tuesday within the last 77 miles at White Mountain where the race boiled down to under 15 minutes between Seavey and Zirkle, however that gap expanded at the last checkpoint in Safety.
The 2004 champ arrived at Safety 25 minutes earlier than Zirkle at 7:37 p.m. Tuesday. Seavey officially finished the race in 9 days, 7 hours, 39 minutes, and 56 seconds. He is the oldest Iditarod champion to date and becomes the eighth musher with more than one Iditarod title.
Mitch Seavey is also the father of last year’s champ Dallas Seavey. It’s the first time mushers from the same family have won consecutive Iditarods.
Aliy Zirkle once again repeats as the runner-up. The window to catch Mitch remained out of reach, as Zirkle pulled into the burled arch 23 minutes behind. She officially completed the racein 9 Days, 8 hours, 3 minutes, and 35 seconds.
The drama of the world famous “last great race,” climaxed after 9 days with the last 300 miles filled with plenty of excitement as the leaderboard constantly shifted with former champs and serious contenders.
The mandatory eight-hour layover in White Mountain only heightened the anticipation as teams neared the burled arch. Mitch Seavey was first into clutch point at 5:11 a.m. Tuesday, however before he could lay down straw for his dogs, Aliy Zirkle was pulling in at 5:24 a.m.
"I don't know, it's all over the charts,” said Mitch Seavey, first out of White Mountain. “I might be invincible or I might be kidding myself who knows."
With only 13 minutes separating the veteran mushers, teams were cautiously optimistic Tuesday afternoon.
"I feel pretty good about it,” said Aliy Zirkle, second out of White Mountain. “I know what I'm going to do, Mitch is like obviously one of the most talented mushers in the world, so it's no small feat to try to beat him but I’m going to try."
The last leg of 77 miles had one remaining checkpoint in Safety before the finish line in Nome.
This year’s race marked the smallest lead a musher has had out White Mountain, since 1993 when Jeff King led DeeDee Jonrowe by seven minutes. King won by 32 minutes.
The last person to overcome a deficit at White Mountain was Rick Swenson in 1991, and he needed a serious storm to slow down the late Susan Butcher.
9 closest finishes in the race's history:
1978 Dick Mackey over Rick Swenson by 1 second
1982 Rick Swenson over Susan Butcher by 3 minutes, 43 seconds
1977 Rick Swenson over Jerry Riley by 5 minutes
2013 Mitch Seavey over Aliy Zirkle by 23 minutes
1975 Emmitt Peters over Jerry Riley by 26 minutes
1993 Jeff King over DeeDee Jonrowe by 32 Minutes
2005 Robert Sorlie over Ed Iten by 34 minutes
1979 Rick Swenson over Emmitt Peters by 42 minutes
1981 Rick Swenson over Sonny Lindner by 48 minutes
4-time champ Martin Buser, of Big Lake, had the lucky draw of being the first team out of Willow and continued to set the pace for much of the race until midway on the Yukon River. He enjoyed the “First Musher to the Yukon,” award and ate a five-course meal in Anvik, however out of Eagle Island, the unforgiving weather and trail conditions took its toll and Buser’s lead began to slip away.
“I was hoping for a little storm but I really wasn't hoping for myself to be in a little storm,” said Buser on Saturday at the Kaltag checkpoint. “I got the perfect wrong timing there, it snowed all the time when I was resting them and then we had to break out the trail."
Once teams cleared this year’s southern route, several teams declared their candidacy for victory into Norton Sound. On odd-numbered years, teams cover slightly more miles around the Yukon River, where as on even-numbered years, teams pass through more northern villages.
Mitch Seavey won the Gold Cost Award for being first into Unalakleet, winning a beautiful gold cup and $2,500 (1.5 ounces) in gold nuggets.
“I trained them to recover on three to four breaks, so if we could get to at least that gear, they should bounce pretty good,” said Seavey on Sunday at the Unalakleet checkpoint.
At this point, Jeff King also made a power move and leapfrogged from 12th place to 3rd place. King and his 13 dogs finished that leg of the course in 11 hours and 31 minutes.
With 300 miles left in the race, it became a jockeying match for position as teams picked their moments to strike ahead.
BOTTOM PACK, RED LANTERN
As of Tuesday, Mar. 12, nine teams scratched and one team was withdrawn for Iditarod XLI since the ceremonial start in Anchorage.
The recent mushers to drop were Jan Steves, Jason Mackey, and Rudy Demoski Sr.
Jan Steves, of Edmonds, Washington scratched at Eagle Island out of concern for her dogs. The 56-year-old musher began mushing in 2008.
Jason Mackey and Rudy Demoski Sr., both mushers call Wasilla home, and scratched at Unalkleet. The 41-year-old Mackey was battling the flu and intended to add another championship to the family crest, which includes his brothers Rick and Lance and his father Dick.
Demoski Sr. scratched out of concern for his dogs. The 67-year-old grew up in Anvik and finished in fourth place in his first Iditarod.
As for the Red Lantern award, the remaining teams in contention were mid-way along the Yukon River.
Rookie musher Cindy Abbott has remained in the bottom pack. The 54-year-old musher, of Irvive, CA via Nebraska, was diagnosed with a serious and rare disease (Wegner’s Granulomatosis) and completed last year’s Yukon Quest.
For more Iditarod extras, including videos and photo galleries, visit KTUU’s Iditarod webpage.
Editor’s Note: KTUU Sports’ Charlie Sokaitis and Kevin Wells contributed to this report.