Iditarod: Mackey, King frontrunners heading for Nome
By RACHEL D'ORO
Associated Press Writer
By RACHEL D'ORO
NOME, Alaska — This old gold rush town is almost ready for the grand finale of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. About all that's left is to see whose dogs arrive first.
The burled arch that marks the end of the 1,100-mile trek has been moved to Front Street from its usual storage place behind City Hall. The first musher was due to cross the finish line tonight or early tomorrow.
The front-runners are the last two men to win the Iditarod — Lance Mackey of Fairbanks and four-time champion Jeff King of Denali Park.
"It's a two-way race. Right now it looks like either Jeff or Lance, but a lot of things can happen," said Dale Myers, a longtime volunteer who was hanging Iditarod sponsor banners along the snow-packed chute leading to the finish line.
Mackey was the first musher out of the Elim checkpoint, leaving at 2:20 a.m. Tuesday. King left less than an hour later after resting his team longer in the checkpoint. King's team also was moving faster than Mackey's on the trail.
Four-time champion Martin Buser of Big Lake was in third place. He was followed by Hans Gatt, a three-time Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race winner from Whitehorse, Yukon.
Half the top 10 racers on Tuesday morning were previous champions, including 2004 winner Mitch Seavey of Seward and Rick Swenson of Two Rivers, the race's only five-time winner.
The top 30 finishers will get a piece of the $875,000 purse. The winner gets $69,000 and a $45,000 truck.
Last year, Mackey became the first musher to record back-to-back wins in the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest and the Iditarod. Mackey also won his fourth consecutive Quest last month and is trying to repeat last year's double win.
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's also had other dog-care duties in the race. She hasn't had much time to keep tabs on the competition.
"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."
Southern Californians Luanna Rugh and Nancy Wilson couldn't get their husbands to come along. The women were just happy to be in Nome for a race they've longed to see for years.
For Wilson, the Iditarod is on her list of "things to do before I kick the bucket."
"This is a dream," Rugh added.
Eleven mushers have scratched since the start of the race and one has been withdrawn. Eighty-three mushers remain on the trail. Two dogs have died in this year's race, including a 3-year-old female struck by a snowmobile.