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Mitch Seavey returns to Iditarod lead; Zirkle 2nd, King 3rd


Mitch Seavey is in Elim with a comfortable lead after passing Jeff King on the trail from Koyuk.

Aliy Zirke also passed King, who bypassed rest at Koyuk only to stop his team eight miles outside that checkpoint.

King told Iditarod Insider that he thought his team could make the run from Shaktoolik to Elim without resting in Koyuk. But the dogs weren't up for such a long run, prompting King to park his team.

Zirkle was about seven miles outside Elim when Seavey reached the checkpoint at 6:36 p.m.


With clear skies overhead, Aliy Zirkle, Ray Redington Jr. and Aaron Burmeister left Koyuk within 14 minutes of one another Monday afternoon, their hopes dimming that they can reel in the leaders.

They're in pursuit of Jeff King and Mitch Seavey, but none felt confident they could catch them.

"They have to slow way down" for that to happen, Redington said.

King is in the lead, about five miles ahead of Seavey and about 20 miles ahead of the chase pack.

"It's really a duel between those two," Burmeister said. In recent runs, he said, his team has been flagging after two to three hours and doesn't appear strong enough to mount a challenge.

Zirkle said her plan was to blast through Koyuk and go all the way to Elim in an effort to join the leaders. But her team didn't seem capable of making such a long run Monday morning, she said, so she stopped in Koyuk.

As of 2 p.m., 10 mushers had reached Koyuk.

Rounding out the group are rookie Joar Leifseth Ulsom, Jake Berkowitz, Dallas Seavey, Sonny Lindner and DeeDee Jonrowe.

Dallas Seavey, last year's champion, recorded the fastest time from Shaktookik to Koyuk, a distance of about 40 miles. He did it in 6 hours, 1 minute. King and Berkowitz were next fastest at 6:04 each.

Burmeister was the slowest at 7:29.


Mitch Seavey and his team of 10 huskies left Koyuk at 11:20 a.m. Monday, three hours after race leader Jeff King.

Seavey spent about three and a half hours in Koyuk resting his team. King, according to GPS data, rested his team on the trail for about 90 minutes. He's currently about six miles ahead of Seavey on the way to Elim.


A different 50-something is now leading the race to Nome.

Four-time champion Jeff King, 57, stole the lead from 2004 champion Mitch Seavey, 53, by bolting through Koyuk on Monday morning.

Seavey was the first to reach Koyuk, at 7:42 a.m., but King arrived 34 minutes later in second place. He stayed six minutes before leaving for Elim some 40 miles away. After that is White Mountain, where all mushers take an eight-hour break before the final push to Nome.

Another AARP-eligible musher, 54-year-old Martin Buser, was the pacesetter for the first half of the race.


A second Iditarod championship is anything but in the bag for Sterling musher Mitch Seavey, who was clinging to a lead while running his team on the sea ice Monday morning toward the village of Koyuk.

Prowling in second place behind the 53-year-old musher is another old timer, 57-year-old Jeff King, who is looking to snatch the lead for the first time during this race and perhaps hang onto it for good. If King did such a thing, he would bag his fifth Iditarod victory and tie Rick Swenson for the most wins in race history.

But there's still a long way to go -- 171 miles from Koyuk to Nome -- in the 41st running of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, which began nine days ago. Back then King was just a blip on the radar for most mushers.

While Martin Buser was grabbing all the attention with his unprecedented run to Rohn and other race leaders were setting records, the Denali Park musher held back.

Only four days ago, King was taking his mandatory 24-hour layover in Iditarod, where he watched 22 teams leave ahead of him at the halfway point of the 1,000-mile race. He admitted that holding back wasn't an easy task.

"Fast dog teams are like drugs to mushers," King said in Unalakleet. "We love it and we want more and we want them to go faster. And yet part of us is going, 'No, no, I've got to break the habit.' "

His patience is beginning to pay off. As of 6:30 a.m., King trailed Seavey on the wind-battered sea ice of the Norton Bay by seven miles, according to the GPS trackers.

Trailing Seavey and King are four mushers -- Aaron Burmeister, Aliy Zirkle, Ray Redington Jr. and rookie Joar Leifseth Ulsom -- who also left Shaktoolik early Monday in hopes of earning the biggest portion of the $600,000 purse.

Seavey won his first and only Iditarod in 2004, and King last won the race in 2006 -- the year before the Lance Mackey Era began. That 2006 victory was won between Kaltag and Unalakleet, King recalled.

During that 85-mile run he passed four-time champion Doug Swingley in the middle of a wicked ground blizzard. Shortly after passing the Montana musher, King lost his team and yelled out for his leader Salem to stop. The dog obeyed and eventually helped his master become the oldest musher to ever win the Last Great Race.

Salem is now retired, but King is running with one of Salem's sons, Barnum. On Sunday, when King passed the spot where Salem shone, he told Barnum the story.

"I was giving him a little family history," King said.


Anchorage Daily News /

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