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Mackey pushes hard to keep King at bay

Mike Campbell
Iditarod musher Jeff King tips his sled as he rounds a corner at the Koyuk checkpoint Monday, March 10, 2008.
Photo by BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Iditarod musher Lance Mackey comes into the the Koyuk checkpoint Monday, March 10, 2008 followed by a group of village children.
Photo by BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Iditarod musher Lance Mackey feeds his team at the Koyuk checkpoint Monday, March 10, 2008.
Photo by BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Iditarod musher Jeff King checks into the Koyuk checkpoint Monday, March 10, 2008.
Photo by BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Koyuk villagers Fannie Nassuk and two of her children, Harald, on her shoulders and Tara, wait for Iditarod mushers Lance Mackey and Jeff King at the Koyuk checkpoint Monday, March 10, 2008.
Photo by BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Iditarod musher Lance Mackey pulls his team out the deeper snow next to the street at the Koyuk checkpoint Monday, March 10, 2008.
Photo by BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Iditarod musher Lance Mackey looks back for Jeff King as he is about to come off the Norton Sound ice and enter the Koyuk checkpoint Monday, March 10, 2008.
Photo by BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Iditarod sled dog musher Jeff King pulls his team back after his snow hook pulled out and the team moved forward as he was parking at the Koyuk checkpoint Monday, March 10, 2008.
Photo by BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Koyuk villagers wait for Iditarod sled dog mushers Lance Mackey and Jeff King at the village checkpoint Monday, March 10, 2008.
Photo by BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Iditarod musher Lance Mackey struggles to pull off his wind pants at the Koyuk checkpoint Monday, March 10, 2008.
Photo by BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
12-year-old Cecila Nassuk holds a sign with the mileage to Nome as Iditarod musher Jeff King feeds his team at the Koyuk checkpoint Monday, March 10, 2008.
Photo by BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Koyuk villagers Michelle Kavairlook and Katie Hannon look at a photo they made of themselves after Iditarod sled dog mushers Lance Mackey and Jeff King came into the Koyuk checkpoint Monday, March 10, 2008.
Photo by BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Iditarod musher Jeff King describes the run into the Koyuk checkpoint Monday, March 10, 2008.
Photo by BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News

As the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race entered its final 100 miles, the gritty, determined defending champion Lance Mackey had somehow forged a 50-minute lead over four-time winner Jeff King.

Could he hold it?

Throughout the second half of the 1,100-mile race from Willow to Nome, Mackey has tried to keep a charging King at bay. Even though his trail time between checkpoints has been slower, Mackey preserved his edge by cutting his rest. If that strategy holds up another 18 hours, he will have back-to-back victories in the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod for the second straight year.

Mackey, of Fairbanks, pulled out of the Elim checkpoint at 2:20 this morning, bound for Golovin, 28 miles away. King, of Denali Park, left the same checkpoint at 3:10 a.m., with all 16 of his dogs still in harness.

Once there, the mushers have just 77 miles to go before the Nome finish line. They'll have to stop in White Mountain for a mandatory eight-hour rest before beginning the stretch run.

"It's a two-way race. Right now it looks like either Jeff or Lance, but a lot of things can happen," Dale Myers, a longtime Iditarod volunteer, told The Associated Press. Myers was hanging Iditarod sponsor banners along the snowpacked chute leading to the finish line.

"I keep going back and forth between Jeff and Lance," Myers said.

A victory for King would tie him with Rick Swenson of Two Rivers, the Iditarod's only five-time winner. Swenson was in 10th place out of Koyuk this morning.

But Mackey also would make history with a win. Last year he became the first musher to record back-to-back wins in the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod. Mackey also won his fourth consecutive Quest last month.

At Iditarod central, in Nome's small convention center, volunteers from across the nation staffed tables heaped with souvenirs. Others hung welcome flags with mushers' names.

Outside, more volunteers were busy sorting bales of straw and bags of dog food forwarded by mushers for their teams. There were chains to line up in tight rows, where dog teams will be rigged up and tended to after mushers cross the finish line.

Kathleen Zwolak, a longtime volunteer from Wadsworth, Ill., was coordinating dog lot preparations. She also had other dog-care duties earlier in the race.

"Between Lance and Jeff, I don't have clue," she said. "I know both are awesome mushers and both have their own strategies. It's anybody's guess."

Eleven mushers have scratched since the start of the race, and one has been withdrawn. A field of 83 mushers remains on the trail.

Updated standings
Trail map: Updated standings
2008 Iditarod leaderboard
Submit your Iditarod photos
By Mike Campbell
Anchorage Daily News