Report Card: Predicting the 2017 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, by Andre Jute

March 15, 2017 14:02:45

The Top 13 teams in the 2017 Iditarod Sled Dog Race have now passed under the burled arch in Front St in Nome, after 979 miles of racing in very cold temperatures that, however, made for a good trail.

1. Mitch Seavey  in 8d 3h 40m 13s RECORD
2. Dallas Seavey
3. Nicolas Petit
4. Joar Leifseth Ulsom
5. Jessie Royer
6. Wade Marrs
7. Ray Redington Jr
8. Aliy Zirkle
9. Peter Kaiser
10. Paul Gebhardt
11. Jeff King
12. Ramey Smyth
13. Michelle Phillips

Besides shattering his son Dallas Seavey’s speed record from last year, Mitch Seavey, who was already the oldest man at 53 to win the Iditarod the last time he won, is again the oldest man at 57 to win. And no doubt he’ll be back next year to try for a fourth victory to match Dallas’s four…The first 9 mushers all brought their teams home under the magic 9 days, and the tenth, Paul Gebhart, was only 6 seconds over the 9 day mark.
The last Iditarod champion whose name isn’t Seavey was John Baker in 2011, and his time was 8d 18h 46m 39s. Until the start of this Iditarod, the club of sub-9 day mushers added up to 13, and it isn’t much larger today because the usual over-achievers are also the front runners this year.
[right] The beautiful and
talented Jessie Royer
Most years I make up the list of teams we (readers of my novel IDITAROD, Facebook friends) will follow by choosing a few extremely popular mushers, a few fast mushers, a beautiful musher or two (only checking to see if you are awake!), and someone worthwhile from the rear of the field. Before you ask, I don’t consciously include women (or Norwegians for that matter), though the Iditarod is notable for women running on equal terms with men, and for the large number of women who do enter, and sometimes win. By the time I’ve included popular and fast mushers, I usually have selected several women anyway — and a Norwegians or two as well!Aliy Zirkle mushing in characteristically exuberant style.
Who can resist adding her to a shortlist?
For 2017 before the race started I chose the mushers I thought would be in the top ten. That turned out to be the two Seaveys, Mitch and Dallas; three young guns, Petit, Marrs and Kaiser; two women, Royer and Zirkle; two Norwegians, Ulsom and Johannessen; and the perennial top-ten runner and multiple champion Jeff King.Of those King was 11th and Johannessen 16th. Maybe next year.So, out of my choices, eight of “my” ten were in the actual top ten. I should have put on some money.

[L to R, T to B] Here are my eight out of ten winners, in order of finishing: Mitch Seavey, Dallas Seavey, Nicolas Petit, Joar Leifseth Ulsom, Jessie Royer, Wade Marrs, [Ray Redington Jr, not shown, was 7th], Aliy Zirkle, Peter Kaiser, [Paul Gebhardt, not shown, was 10th]
I also forecast the winner: “…I’d advise [some notional bookmaker] to shorten the odds on a Seavey win, putting the chances of another Seavey win at near enough even-steven, maybe 45-55.” You can read my logic here.Thank you for joining me for an exciting ride.
Extraordinary detail from the now-famous watercolor cover painting by Gino D’Achille commissioned by Grafton for the original paperback edition of Iditarod a Novel of the Greatest Race on Earth. When there was talk of changing the cover illustration for the CoolMain 20th Anniversary Edition, the D’Achille painting was retained to avoid a revolt of readers who believe it encapsulates the story.
Articles about the 2017 Iditarod from most recent to earliest:

How to discover who really leads the Iditarod.
Who can deny Dallas Seavey another Iditarod victory?
Can one of the Seaveys win the Iditarod, again?
Surviving the Iditarod by intelligent information flow.

If you’re on a nostalgia kick, here’s a list of Iditarod articles from earlier years (in this decade). Also, in another place, nostalgia from the first years of the Iditarod, here are a few Reminiscences from the great Joe May, champion in 1980.

IDITAROD a novel of The Greatest Race on Earth by Andre Jute
IDITAROD a novel of
The Greatest Race on Earth
by Andre Jute

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The perfect finish — for the Seaveys

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The Seavey’s are creaming themselves. The tracker shows the finish in Nome, the checkpoint in Safety 22 miles from Nome, and White Mountain. On the trail to Nome are 46 Dallas Seavey, 18 Mitch Seavey, 63 Aaron Burmeister.

Check the scale and grab your best guess from thin air about whether Mitch can overtake Dallas before Nome.

Gearing up for the Greatest Race on Earth

Last year at the end of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race across Alaska, a thousand miles and a bit running behind a dog sled within spitting distance of the Arctic Circle, I noted: “The first fifteen places are filled by mushers who haven’t won before, most of them in their thirties still, and  two in their early twenties have finished in the top ten.”

And you can still hear the surprise in my tone: “Holy moses, the first Iditarod champion into Nome is Lance Mackey in 16th place, followed by Martin Buser in 18th and Rick Swenson in 20th.”

Then I asked,  “Is this the changing of the guard at the Iditarod?” By then it was not an ingenuous question. I wondered about it in 2011 when John Baker, 48, won, watching younger men pressing him hard, catching up towards the end of the race. But, while some of the more open-minded observers were willing to discuss it, quite a few with their feet planted firmly on the ground were expecting the process to last five to ten years, because “experience counts for so much in the Iditarod.”

Then Dallas Seavey, 24, won the tense 2012 race.

Not that anyone with brains thinks the old guys are finished, you understand. They are very, very hard men, and women. As I also noted last year, “Swenson heroically ran with broken collarbone since the Steps, and still finished 20th.” And in such a dangerous race, experience counts, something that can’t be said too often, so don’t discount those over technical middle age.

Aliy Zirkle, leading the 1200 mile Iditarod, cutting a corner tighty, fighting to keep her sled upright.

And don’t discount the women. In a blindingly fast race last year Aliy Zirkle ran out front for most of the race, until worn down by Dallas Seavey’s heavier dogs. In good conditions all the way — possible if not very likely by past history — Zirkle, tooled up with those fast little dogs, could get out front and stay out front.
Last year’s result included three women in the top 20:
10 Jessie Royer 58 00:23:17 10
11 Aliy Zirkle 18 01:22:31 11
12 DeeDee Jonrowe 2 01:24:17 10
After a thousand miles running behind a sled, being less than an hour and a half behind such a strong winner as Dallas Seavey is most definitely a threatening posture.

There will definitely be a woman in my shortlist of possible winners for newbies to follow. Well, actually, since the sparkling Zirkle is guaranteed a place on my shortlist, there will be women, plural in my shortlist from the entry list. Watch this space.

• Andre Jute is the author of the most beloved, prize-winning novel of this iconic race, IDITAROD a novel of The Greatest Race on Earth, available as an ebook for only $2.99 through the race, and also in paperback.
• Every year at the race Andre issues an open invitation to go racing with him from the comfort and safety of your armchair, with commentary provided by experts and discussion you can join in.
• This year the race starts on Saturday 2 March. Go to the nerve centre of Andre’s virtual Iditarod experience and bookmark it.