53-year-old musher becomes oldest Iditarod champ
NOME, Alaska (AP) — A 53-year-old former champion has won the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race to become the oldest winner of Alaska’s grueling test of endurance.
Mitch Seavey and 10 dogs crossed the Nome finish line to cheering crowds at 10:39 p.m. Alaska time Tuesday.
“This is for all of the gentlemen of a certain age,” he said on a live stream posted to the Iditarod website after completing the race in temperatures just above zero. His race time in the 1,000-mile race was nine days, 7 hours and 39 minutes.
Seavey’s victory came after a dueling sprint against Aliy Zirkle, last year’s runner-up, along the frozen, wind-whipped Bering Sea coast. Zirkle crossed the finish line 24 minutes after her rival, who greeted her after a while.
“You did a good job,” Seavey told Zirkle as a camera crew filmed them. “You’re going to win this thing, probably more than once.”
At a news conference after the race Zirkle gave credit to her rival’s strategy.
“Mitch has this ability to sit on the sidelines and refuel because he knows he needs to refuel, while everyone else is zooming by,” she said. “It’s smart, and that’s probably why you won.”
The pair jostled for the lead, with Zirkle never more than a few miles behind, in the final stretch.
“I just now stopped looking over my shoulder,” Seavey said after winning.
Also trailing by a dozen or so miles was four-time champion Jeff King, who was followed by a cluster of contenders, including Seavey’s son, Dallas Seavey. The younger Seavey at age 25 last year became the youngest Iditarod winner ever, beating Zirkle to the finish line by one hour.
Mitch Seavey first won the Iditarod in 2004. Before his Tuesday night win, King had been 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 30s, noted Iditarod race spokeswoman Erin McLarnon.
For reaching Nome first, Seavey wins $50,400 and a new 2013 Dodge Ram pickup truck. The rest of the $600,000 purse will be split among the next 29 mushers to cross the finish line under the famed burled arch on Front Street, a block from the sea.