By Chris Klint
Channel 2 News
7:31 PM AKDT, March 13, 2012
Dallas Seavey of Willow won his first 2012 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog RaceTuesday, capturing victory after an intense endgame that came at the climax of nearly 1,000 miles and more than 10 days of trials and trail.
Fans cheered as Seavey, 25, pulled up to Nome’s Burled Arch at 7:29 p.m., with nine dogs still in harness. The team made good time from the race’s final checkpoint of Safety, covering the 975-mile trail’s final 22 miles in about four hours after Seavey pulled out at 3:42 p.m.
Seavey’s closest competition was Two Rivers musher Aliy Zirkle, who lost her lead to Seavey en route to Shaktoolik as he drove his team to overtake her. Zirkle was about seven miles behind Seavey in the race's final hours and took second with an 8:29 p.m. arrival, while Ramey Smyth of Willow was a few miles behind her and on track for a third-place finish shortly before 9 p.m.
Congratulatory statements on Seavey's win quickly streamed in from Gov. Sean Parnell, as well as Sens. Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski.
“Congratulations to Dallas Seavey, whose remarkable effort and incredible team led to an amazing finish,” Parnell said. “On behalf of Alaska, we appreciate you and your family’s long history with this truly great race.”
“Congratulations to Dallas on his perseverance and dedication to becoming the champion of the Last Great Race," Begich said. "He said from the start that his goal was to make history, and that is exactly what he has done."
"I congratulate Dallas and his team on their remarkable victory in this year’s Iditarod sled dog race, becoming the youngest musher to ever win, at age 25," Murkowski said. "He has skills and a determination beyond his years."
ONE RACE, MANY LEADERS
The leaders in the 40th annual run of the race were a more varied group than in many recent seasons, at times including 2012 Yukon Quest winner Hugh Neff, 71-year-old race veteran Jim Lanier, Zirkle, Seavey and his father, 2004 champion Mitch Seavey. In its final days, however, Zirkle fought to maintain the lead against both Seaveys as the father and son made a series of aggressive moves on the trail.
Among those moves was Dallas Seavey’s daring choice to rest just outside Elim Monday afternoon after checking in at 3:19 p.m. -- a feint intended to demoralize Zirkle, who pulled into the checkpoint little more than half an hour behind him at 3:51 p.m.
Zirkle kept up the pace, however, with Seavey arriving in White Mountain at 12:14 a.m. Tuesday and departing at 8:22 a.m. after a final mandatory eight-hour layover. While Zirkle checked in at 1:25 a.m. and departed at 9:25 a.m., GPS tracking showed her several miles behind Seavey’s team -- a gap she ultimately wasn’t able to close.
JOINING A FAMILY TRADITION
Seavey’s story began in Virginia, which he called home from his birth until age 6 when his family moved back to Alaska. Wrestling was a major pastime of his youth, marked by his rise to become both the state’s high-school wrestling champion and its first national wrestling champion, with a 2003 cadet Greco-Roman USA Wrestling victory in the 125-pound bracket.
Through it all Seavey never took his eyes off the trail, however, participating in the 150-mile Jr. Iditarod from 2002 through 2005. It was in 2005 that his return to the family dynasty became official as he raced in the Jr. Iditarod and also became The Last Great Race’s youngest musher ever, turning 18 on the day of its ceremonial start in Anchorage -- placing third in the junior event and 51st in his first run to Nome.
Since then Seavey has honed his place in the standings, rising from a 41st-place finish in 2007 to sixth place in 2009, eighth place in 2010, and fourth place in 2011.
Although Dallas Seavey is in the spotlight Tuesday, becoming the Iditarod’s youngest-ever winner as well as its youngest-ever musher, this year’s race remains very much a family affair. Three generations of Seaveys are on the trail, with Mitch Seavey’s father Dan Seavey -- a legend in his own right and a contender in the first Iditarod -- near the back of the pack in 54th.
In addition to prizes including a pickup truck and $50,400, Seavey’s Iditarod triumph garners him widespread renown as The Last Great Race’s newest victor. It’s a position which vaulted 2011 winner John Baker of Kotzebue to statewide stardom, including a well-received October keynote speech before the First Alaskans Institute’s Elders and Youth Conference -- the prelude to the Alaska Federation of Natives convention in Anchorage.
MUSHERS SCRATCH, MORE ON THE WAY
What appeared to be a relatively mild trail this year waited until its final days to take its toll on the initial field of 66 mushers, with no fewer than seven -- including four-time champion Jeff King -- scratching or being withdrawn from the race since Friday. Four previous scratches brought the total count of teams off the trail to 11 as of Tuesday night.
With more than 50 mushers still en route to the finish line, however, the Iditarod isn’t over until the last musher arrives to claim the coveted Red Lantern Prize, setting the stage for a final mushers’ banquet in Nome.
This is a developing story. Please check KTUU.com and the Channel 2 newscasts for updates.
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