ANCHORAGE — Musher John Baker blazed from Anchorage to Nome in record time in the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and will be back to defend his crown in March.
Iditarod officials said Thursday that Baker is one of 69 mushers, including six former champions, who plan to compete in the 2012 race.
Seven of the top 10 finishers and 23 of the top 30 from a year ago will return.
“What that tells us is that the 2012 race promises to be ultra-competitive again — pretty hard to crack that top 30 for a newcomer,” said race director Stan Hooley.
The deadline for signup was Wednesday. As of Thursday morning, 65 mushers had completed entries and four others had filed incomplete entries or had sent them in by mail. Additional entries could be added if they’re postmarked by Nov. 30, Hooley said. Last year, 62 mushers started the race.
Baker ran his first Iditarod in 1996 and has a dozen top-ten finishes. The Kotzebue resident is the first Inupiat Eskimo Iditarod champion and the first Native Alaskan to win the race since Jerry Riley in 1976.
Baker’s time of eight days, 18 hours and 46 minutes was three hours faster than Martin Buser’s 1982 race.
Lance Mackey, who won four straight races before Baker, finished 16th last year and has entered again. The other former champions entered are Buser, Mitch Seavey and Jeff King. The only five-time winner, Rick Swenson, is among the mushers whose entry is incomplete.
The field is dominated with Alaskans, with only 17 entrants based outside the state. Four are from Canada, two are from Norway and one each are from Scotland and New Zealand. No foreign musher has won since 2005, when Robert Sorley of Norway took the top prize.
Three mushers are entered from Colorado. The last musher from another state who won the race was Doug Swingley of Montana, who took home three titles from 1999 to 2001.
At least 16 confirmed entrants are rookies. The youngest confirmed entrant is 22-year-old Rohn Buser, who ran the 2008 Iditarod when he was 19. The oldest musher with a completed entry is 71-year-old Jim Lanier, a retired Anchorage pathologist. He has completed 14 Iditarods, according to his biography on the Iditarod website, and bowed out at the last minute last year because of hip surgery.
The average age for entrants, Hooley said, is 42.
“I think that’s one of the things I always find interesting about this particular event is the ages at which one can be competitive and run this race well,” Hooley said.
Seventeen women have completed entries, but missing was Ellen Halverson. The Wasilla musher finished the 2011 race in 13 days, 19 hours and 45 minutes, winning the Red Lantern Award as the last of 47 mushers to reach Nome. Halverson also won the Red Lantern as a rookie in 2007 and is the only musher to take home the award twice.
The race begins March 3.