Dallas Seavey is the 2014 Iditarod champion, setting a new record for fastest time to Nome in his second win in just three years.
Exhausted as his dogs crossed the finish, Seavey wasn't even aware he had won his second championship. He told reporters and race officials that he thought it was his father Mitch chasing him from Safety, the last checkpoint before Nome. Surprised, he asked, "Where's Jeff and Aliy?"
As if answering his question, Two Rivers musher Aliy Zirkle crossed under the Burled Arch just two minutes and 22 seconds later. Jeff King, the race's presumptive leader by late Monday, had scratched just outside of Safety.
It was a fittingly close end to a dramatic race that came down to a harrowing series of events at the Safety checkpoint just 22 miles outside of Nome, events that saw the race leader change three times and would ultimately decide the winner.
Just outside of Safety, it was four-time Iditarod champion Jeff King's race to lose Monday night. He held a nearly one-hour lead over Zirkle, and it seemed Dallas would arrive in Nome a safe third.
But the pitfalls of the trail turned against King, as hurricane-force winds blew his team of 11 dogs off the trail and entangled them for more than two hours. King eventually was forced to ask a snowmachiner to help take him to the Safety checkpoint.
By the time King scratched at 11:40 p.m., Zirkle had passed him to make it to Safety first. But the same winds that derailed King and his team kept Zirkle in the checkpoint for more than two hours.
In post-race interviews, Zirkle recalled speaking with King at Safety after learning he had scratched.
“You’re here? You’re dogs are here?” Zirkle recalled King asking in amazement. “He said, ‘I think that was non-navigable,’” she remembered.
Despite having the additional rest and a larger team—ten dogs to Seavey’s seven—Zirkle scrambled to leave Safety after Seavey spent just three minutes there before moving on to Nome.
Seavey credited his smaller team with having more maneuverability than Zirkle’s larger team.
“I don’t think I did anything to win the Iditarod this year, other than run a smart race to White Mountain and come in third,” he said. “From there, it was mother nature and luck.”
Seavey was out of Safety by 1:16 a.m. Zirkle gave chase 19 minutes later, departing at 1:35 a.m..
The final miles to Nome became a duel between personal and team endurance, with Seavey in good shape but with a skeleton team of dogs, while Zirkle had a larger and more rested team but was reporting injuries from earlier along the trail.
Pulling his dogs on to Front Street, and glacning back over his shoulder all the while, Seavey sprinted to the final feet of the trail, ski poling and running alongside his team to the very end. Zirkle's efforts to catch Seavey were similarly strong, but she was never able to overtake him before he reached the the famous arch.
For Zirkle, this year's race marks her third consecutive year finishing second. "Better than scratching," she shrugged to an applauding crowd while being interviewed after the race.
Seavey's total trail time was 8 days 13 hours 4 minutes and 19 seconds, shattering 2011's record-setting run to Nome set by Kotzebue musher John Baker by more than five hours. Baker's time was 8 days, 18 hours, 46 minutes, and 39 seconds.
Aside from the record pace to Nome, Seavey's win also marks a curious Iditarod milestone: his is the first victory in years by a musher who wasn't first into White Mountain.
Channel 2's Chris Klint contributed to this story.