NOME Even as Mitch Seavey sped into the winner's chute with his eight dogs, he had a little difficulty believing he'd won the 1,100-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race across Alaska.
''I kept looking over my shoulder,'' he said after crossing the finish line at 10:20 p.m. Tuesday.
It had been one of the closest Iditarods in years, beginning with a record 87 mushers.
Seavy spent nine days, 12 hours, 20 minutes and 22 seconds traversing spectacular terrain from Anchorage to Nome, riding across frozen rivers and vast rolling hills and through treacherous gorges and winding mountain passes.
''I think everybody's happy to have an Alaskan boy win the Iditarod,'' said Seavey, who was running his 11th Iditarod. His previous best finish had been fourth in 1998.
The 43-year-old musher from Seward won $69,000 and a new Dodge pickup truck.
Three-time winner Jeff King of Denali Park finished second at 12:40 a.m. Wednesday, about two hours and 20 minutes behind Seavey.
Norwegian Kjetil Backen was third at 1:11 a.m., followed by Ramey Smyth of Big Lake at 2:23 a.m., Ed Iten of Kotzebue at 2:25 p.m., Charlie Boulding of Manley at 3:04 a.m., five-time winner Rick Swenson of Two Rivers at 4:59 a.m. and Ramy Brooks of Healy at 5:58 a.m.
It was the dogs that made the race, Seavey said.
''This dog team is awesome,'' he said. ''I knew if I didn't make any big mistakes this dog team is a monster. I knew they could do it.''
For four-time Iditarod winner Martin Buser, the race was a disappointment. He finished 11th, with a time of 10 days, 2 hours, 41 minutes and 37 seconds. He had only seven dogs left on his team.
Teams begin the race with 16 dogs, and drop them at race checkpoints for a variety of reasons for delivery home later. Buser said his dogs suffered a number of problems, including swollen tendons, sore feet and one he called a ''mental case.''
''They never really materialized,'' he said. ''In fact, they deteriorated.''
Buser, of Big Lake, holds the Iditarod record for his 2002 victory which took him eight days, 22 hours and 46 minutes. He also won the Iditarod in 1992, 1994 and 1997.
The Iditarod, the longest sled dog race in the world, commemorates a 674-mile dog-sled relay in 1925 that delivered serum from Nenana to Nome to stop an outbreak of diphtheria among children.
The 2004 Iditarod began with a ceremonial start in Anchorage on March 6, followed by an official restart in Willow, 74 miles farther up the trail.
Seavey said he had imagined himself in the winner's chute in Nome since he was a boy, listening to his father, Dan, plan the first Iditarod in 1973. But when it happened, he seemed a bit surprised.
''I'm sort of in disbelief,'' Seavey said.
The 2004 Iditarod had prize money of more than $700,000.
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