Mitch Seavey wins

Seward musher first to go under Iditarod burled arch

Posted: Wednesday, March 17, 2004

NOME Mitch Seavey won the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday, finishing the 1,100-mile route across Alaska in nine days, 12 hours, 20 minutes and 22 seconds.

Seavey, 43, of Seward crossed the finish line at 10:20 p.m. Alaska time in what had been one of the closest Iditarods in years.

It was a dream come true for the veteran musher, who has competed in the Iditarod 11 times. His previous best finish was fourth in 1998.

''I'm sort of in disbelief,'' Seavey said. ''I think everybody's happy to have an Alaskan boy win the Iditarod.''

Hundreds of people, clapping and cheering, were gathered on Front Street in Nome to welcome Seavey into the winner's chute.

Three-time winner Jeff King of Denali Park was at least an hour behind. King is competing in his 15th Iditarod, having finished in the top 10 every year since 1992.

Seavey said it was a fun race for him, and he knew if he did things right, his dogs could bring him in first at Nome.

''This dog team is awesome,'' he said. ''I knew if I didn't make any big mistakes ... I knew they could do it.''

Seavey's dream of winning the race began as a child when he listened to his father, Dan, help plan the first Iditarod in 1973.

Seavey said it didn't matter that he had only a three-dog team at the time.

''Every time I'd be running dogs by our house I'd be imagining myself in the finish chute in Nome winning the Iditarod,'' he said.

Seavey is the second musher from the Kenai Peninsula to win the race. Twenty years ago Dean Osmar of Clam Gulch won the honors, finishing the race in 12 days, 15 hours, 7 minutes and 33 seconds.

The Iditarod, the longest sled dog race in the world, commemorates a 674-mile relay race from Nenana to Nome in February 1925 when dog teams successfully delivered serum to prevent an outbreak of diphtheria among children.

While Seavey liked how his race went, it hadn't been an easy ride for him, he said.

''We have tougher races somewhere else, but I'm not sure where,'' the sleep-deprived musher said.

Seavey said he wondered, during the early parts of the race, if he had a chance at all this year. He got fired up in the second half and became much more aggressive. His change of attitude occurred in Kaltag, 351 miles from Nome, where he had a friendly lunch with Norwegian Kjetil Backen, who was in the lead at the time.

''It looked like he was going to walk away with it,'' Seavey said. ''I decided somebody had to go get that guy, and I did. We were able to reel him in.''

Backen tried unsuccessfully Monday to snatch the lead back from Seavey but was third arriving in White Mountain on Tuesday morning, the last checkpoint before Nome.

Backen, who came in 10th in 2002, was running nearly the same team as the one fellow Norwegian Robert Sorlie did to win the 2003 Iditarod. Sorlie did not compete this year.

King, who has led several times since the race restart in Willow, said Seavey had put together some good runs.

King said Seavey's dogs, in his opinion, had outperformed the musher. Seavey had made some mistakes that could have cost him the race but hadn't because of his fast team, King said.

Seavey acknowledged he lost 52 minutes after leaving the Golovin checkpoint 18 miles before White Mountain because he was convinced he was on the wrong trail, even though he wasn't. He went back to the checkpoint to make sure he was on the Iditarod trail.

A record 87 mushers began the race's ceremonial start March 6 from downtown Anchorage.

The 2004 Iditarod has prize money of more than $700,000. The first-place prize is $69,000 and a new Dodge pickup truck worth $41,410.

About one-third of this year's record field were rookies.

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