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Iditarod champ Seavey delivers a win for the aged

Beth Bragg

Mitch Seavey and Aliy Zirkle were sitting side by side at a press conference Tuesday night after their 1-2 finish in the Iditarod when the conversation turned to age. Specifically, 53-year-old Seavey's age.

Someone asked if a musher needs the experience of age in order to win a race like the Iditarod.

"Obviously Dallas won last year and he's just a pup," Seavey replied, referring to his 26-year-old son who won last year's race. "So now he's the youngest I guess and I'm the oldest."

Zirkle looked over in astonishment.

"Really?" she said. "You're THAT old?"

Seavey's victory was one for the aged. He surpassed Jeff King, who was 50 when he won his fourth title in 2006, as the Iditarod's oldest winner.

"The media's been trying to write me off for a long time," Seavey said. "And not just me, but other mushers of similar age who've been around awhile.

"So my comment at the finish line was that this one is for gentlemen of a certain age who've still got it going on."

This year's Iditarod was teeming with mushers of a certain age who still have it going on.

The average age of the top 3: Fifty-one. Seavey is 53, Zirkle is 43 and King is 57.

The average age of the top 10: Forty-three. In ninth place was 63-year-old Sonny Lindner and in 10th place was 59-year-old Dee Jonrowe. Only three mushers in their 20s made the list -- fourth-place Dallas Seavey, seventh-place Joar Leifseth Ulsom and eighth-place Jake Berkowitz, all 26.

"The thing about mushing," Seavey said, "is while we put a lot of physical exertion into it, there's a lot of coaching that goes along with it. I've been saying for years that every year that goes by I feel like I'm a better musher because it's about what you learn and your experience.

"I think there's limits, obviously, but if you're reasonably able to help your team and take care of things on the trail, there's no reason why people who are older can't do just as well as even better because of the experience."

Zirkle said Seavey's experience and maturity paid off this year. He stuck to his game plan and resisted any urge make adjustments based on other mushers were doing. He didn't cut rest when Martin Buser opened with a marathon run to Rohn, and he didn't give chase when King bolted through Koyuk without stopping, temporarily stealing the lead from Seavey in the process.

"I admire the fact that Mitch can make a choice for his team to rest his team," she said. "A lot of people who are out there and watch us and follow us in this race, they always say 'Go, go, go, go,' and they never think of the stop, stop, stop, and the fact that you have to refuel the animals and you have to refuel yourself.

"Mitch has this ability to sit on the sidelines and refuel because he knows he needs to refuel, while everyone else is zooming by. And it's smart, and it's probably why he won."

Reach Beth Bragg at bbragg@adn.com or 257-4335.

Better with age?

Some of the oldest champions in sports

Olympics -- Oscar Swahn, 64, oldest gold medalist (1912, riflery)

Bowling -- Ernie Schlegel, 56, oldest winner of a major (1996 USBC Masters)

Kentucky Derby -- Billy Shoemaker, 54 (1986)

Auto racing -- Harry Gant, 52, oldest Sprint Cup winner (1992)

Daytona 500 -- Bobby Allison, 50 (1988)

Boxing -- Bernard Hopkins, 48, oldest world champion (2013)

Golf -- Julius Boras, 48, oldest winner of a major (1968)

Indy 500 -- Al Unser, 47 (1987)

Baseball -- Jack Quinn, 46, oldest World Series winner (1930)

Hockey -- Chris Chelios, 46, oldest Stanley Cup winner (2008)

Basketball -- Robert Parish, 43, oldest NBA winner (1997)

Football -- Jeff Feagles, 41, oldest Super Bowl winner (2008)


By BETH BRAGG
bbragg@adn.com
Contact Beth Bragg at bbragg@adn.com or on