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Seavey is Oldest Iditarod Champion

Emily Schwing

Nome, AK - The top Iditarod teams crossed under Nome’s burled arch Tuesday night.  This year’s was one of the most competitive and closest races in Iditarod history. 

A crowd in Nome cheered as 53 year old Mitch Seavey drove his ten dog team into Nome under the burled arch to become the Iditarod’s oldest champion.  Seavey made a tough final push to Nome from White Mountain with Aliy Zirkle chasing close behind. “I hate to do that to Aliy, but you know there’s only room for one winner this year, so it had to be me,” he said at the line.

This is Seavey’s 18th finish and second win.  He says he was pleased with how he ran his dogs in the first half of the race.  “The main key about the whole Iditarod is the run rest ratio, run enough to be in position and rest enough to keep your speed. I think I did a pretty good job of that in the early part of the race.” But Seavey fretted over the amount of rest is team had as they got closer and closer to Nome. “I tried to make a couple of big jumps and it took away my speed," he says. "So then you get into the wrong kind of a cycle, where you can’t rest enough to get your speed back without losing out on a  top position so you get stuck back in the crawling mode and having turtle races out there.”

The top ten teams spent most of the 936 mile race leap frogging each other.  Second place finisher Aliy Zirkle pulled into Nome less than an hour behind Seavey, as the crowd chanted her name. Zirkle worked her way up to second in the last few runs, but was unable to finally catch the team in front. This is the second time in as many years that Zirkle has finished in second place.  It’s also her second loss to a Seavey.  Last year she trailed Mitch Seavey’s son Dallas coming into Nome. The Two Rivers musher took a deep breath as she checked her gear and gave her final signature to race officials. “Yeah, I was glad to be done for sure,” she laughed.   Zirkle had a frustrating run into Nome.  At times both she and Mitch Seavey could see each other.  But Zirkle’s leader, Quito, who ran the entire race up front ,just wasn’t feeling up to the chase “She had a belly ache. She did and I did and she wouldn’t lope at all today,” Zirkle explains.

An hour and a half after Zirkle’s team had left the finish chute, a delighted Jeff King pulled his team across the finish line.  The four-time champion and 23 time finisher, from Healy, went up the line greeting each of his dogs on the way.  When he got to his leader, Skeeter, he laid down, lifted the dog on his chest and took a deep breath.  King says he’s very proud of his team. “This team is here in spite of me," says King.  "I made a couple of really big mistakes.  You never really know until you have things play out a bit.  In retrospect, I did a couple things I really wish I hadn’t but I can’t complain. An awesome finish with an awesome team and great competitors.” King made a big move out of Koyuk to take the lead late in the race, but a soft trail and the hot sun worked against him.  “It takes a lot of confidence. The dogs need to know you’re on their side and you’re in this together.  It was getting so difficult to travel after such a long run after Unalakleet, basically, such a long run that we just stopped until they had the energy to do it again.”

King will take home a portion of this year’s 600-thousand dollar purse, which is split among the top 30 finishers.  More than 50 thousand dollars of it goes to winner Mitch Seavey.  Seavey also wins a brand new Dodge Ram pickup truck.