JUNEAU, Alaska (Reuters) - Dallas Seavey won his second Iditarod sled-dog race in three years on Tuesday, unseating his father, Mitch, as defending champion while breaking the race’s three-year-old record.
The 26-year-old Seavey and his canine team finished the 42nd annual, 1,000-mile race through the Alaskan tundra and into the coastal community of Nome in 8 days, 13 hours, 4 minutes and 19 seconds.
High winds whirled snow over the final stretch of the race, compelling leader and four-time champion Jeff King to drop out just 25 miles from the finish line of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
The punishing round-the-clock marathon commemorates a rescue mission that carried diphtheria serum by sled-dog relay to Nome in 1925. While most competitors are from Alaska, the race has drawn entrants from as far away as Norway, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Sweden and Jamaica.
Seavey’s win breaks John Baker’s 2011 record by more than five hours. For Seavey, of Willow, Alaska, it was his sixth straight top-10 finish.
“It means my dad only had bragging rights for a year,” Seavey told the crowd after being declared the winner. “It means that we are doing things right. It means once again that I’ve had the honor of driving the best dog team in the world.”
Seavey’s effort was also just enough to edge 44-year-old Aliy Zirkle, who claimed her third consecutive runner-up finish.
Zirkle, of Two Rivers, Alaska, was just over two minutes away from becoming the first woman in more than two decades to win.
King, 58, who dropped out a few miles from the last checkpoint in Safety, Alaska, reported that winds became so severe that he was having difficulty navigating the trail, race officials said. He became the 18th racer in the 69-team field to withdraw. Had King prevailed, he would have been the first to win five races.
Winds ranged from 15 to 25 miles per hour (25 to 40 km per hour) with gusts reaching about 40 mph in the race’s final hours, according to the National Weather Service.
Temperatures ranged from 2 to -7 degrees Fahrenheit (-16.7 Celsius to minus 21.7 C), it said.
Seavey takes home the $50,400 purse, the winner’s share of prize money exceeding $650,000 and a Chrysler Ram truck.
The high winds produced confusion as well. Seavey told the finish-line crowd he had no idea he won; afterward Zirkle said she didn’t know that she passed King before the last checkpoint, but knew she trailed Seavey.
“It just hit me a minute ago that I won the dang thing,” Seavey said after the race. “I thought I had just beat my dad for third.”
Editing by Eric M. Johnson, Scott Malone and W Simon