BETHEL -- Another year, another celebration for Bethel as hometown musher Pete Kaiser claimed his second consecutive Kuskokwim 300 title, finishing shortly after 11 a.m. Sunday.
The King of the Kuskokwim remains unvanquished.
Kaiser finished in one day, 16 hours, 36 minutes, with Brent Sass of Eureka 10 minutes back and Joar Ulsom of Norway just six minutes behind Sass.
After not seeing a Yukon-Kuskokwim-based musher win one of Alaska's biggest races for 29 years, Bethel fans now may be wondering if area mushers will start dominating the $130,000 race that attracts many of the biggest names in the sport.
Richie Diehl, 30, of Aniak, was running fourth and Mike Williams Jr. of Akiak, a former runner-up, was 12th Sunday as the sun came up over the Kuskokwim River.
When Kaiser pulled into the final checkpoint of Tuluksak, he asked about Diehl's standing.
"He's one of my good friends," Kaiser told KYUK radio. " He's having a really good race."
Victory is worth $25,000, with $17,000 going to the second-place musher.
Last year, Kaiser's dramatic come-from-behind win came as a huge relief to a musher who enjoys wide support in Bethel, with sponsors, family and friends helping out.
"I put a lot of pressure on myself to accomplish that and probably a lot of pressure on everybody who knows me," Kaiser said after that race. "I could live with myself without winning the Iditarod but I couldn't live with myself if I never won the Kusko."
"It's a real community event," Kaiser added. "It's taken a long time for that to come around."
A giant photo of Kaiser and his lead dogs Rosie and Palmer took over the front page of the next print issue of The Delta Discovery, one of Bethel's weekly newspapers. The headline shouted in red, "Kaiser Wins K300!"
And the experience gained 12 months ago paid dividends.
"Last year's win gave me a little better understanding of what (my dogs) are capable of, so I tried to apply that this year," Kaiser told KUYK in Tuluksak, about 50 miles from the finish line, early Sunday morning. "So far it's kind of working out the way I hoped. Last year, they finished with an excess amount of energy and speed and I thought I could get a little more out of them this year."
Kaiser is part Yup'ik. His father, Ron, is from Kansas and his mother, Janet, is from Bethel. His great-grandmother was from the coastal village of Quinhagak. He grew up in the Bethel hub, a boyhood spent fishing, hunting -- and mushing.
No Yup'ik musher has ever won the Iditarod, though members of other tribal groups have done so, including John Baker, who is an Inupiaq. Kaiser was 14th in the Iditarod a couple months after his 2015 K300 victory. His best finish in the 1,000-mile race to Nome is fifth in 2012.
Ulsom, 29, was the 2013 Iditarod rookie of the year, who hails from Mo i Rana, Norway, but lately has been training in Willow. As an Iditarod rookie, he was seventh, the best rookie finish in the history of the race to Nome.
Alaska Dispatch reporter Lisa Demer contributed to this story. Contact Mike Campbell at firstname.lastname@example.org
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