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:
Exactly. Mitch Seavey is the only other musher besides Dallas to win an Iditarod since 2011, and he has two second places too in these last years. Besides the fact that anyone can see that Mitch is running up front, this history makes Mitch his son Dallas’ main competitor.
Also, on the coast, as they close in on White Mountain, the race reaches a critical stage.
Coming off the Yukon, for the first time, fans and competing mushers too can compare the mushers at the front of the race directly, even-steven, without having to make complicated mathematical calculations, fraught with assumptions, to adjust for starting differentials between teams and whether the team had taken the mandatory 24 hour and first 8 hour stops. Now we can directly consider the order on the trail to be the race order, and to be the result of strategy and tactics of when to run and when to rest, and dog-feeding breaks.
The first musher to check into White Mountain with a bit of clear space behind him has an advantage because after the mandatory break of 8 hours at White Mountain to rest the dogs, the end of the race under the arch in Front Street, Nome, is only 77 miles away (55 miles to Safety, then 22 miles to the winner’s laurels — maps here), less than an easy day’s mushing for the hardened Iditarod competitors.
If the weather doesn’t interfere. In 2015 Jeff King and his dogs were blown off the trail. After Jeff’s mishap, Aliy Zirkle sheltered in the checkpoint to protect her team for a few minutes too long and it cost her the championship she so nearly inherited from front-runner Jeff King. Dallas Seavey, visibly worn out, won by a few minutes after nearly a thousand miles — because he judged the end of the storm slightly more accurately and kept going.
And if your dog team doesn’t lie down and refuse to run. Something else that even many fans of the Iditarod don’t know is that dogs are probably the only animal you can’t work to death. If dogs decide you’re working them too hard, or the conditions are to dangerous to run, they will lie down in the traces and refuse to proceed. It has happened out there on the ice of the Norton Sound to top mushers (1), it could happen again, it will happen again.
(1) I don’t give examples by naming the mushers it happened to because there no suspicion whatsoever that their dogs went on strike because they were maltreating them. Their dogs just turned out to be smarter than they were, which is a common condition in a sport where there are reins, no whips, nothing but the musher’s voice to control the sled dogs. Dogs work for the joy of running, for the love of their owner, not because of any other reason.
2016 IDITAROD TRAIL SLED DOG RACE RESULT
1 Dallas Seavey, new record of 8d 11h 20m 16s
2 Mitch Seavey
3 Aliy Zirkle
4 Wade Marrs
5 Peter Kaiser
6 Joar Leifseth Ulsom
Congratulations all round!
A few points are worth making. This year I chose a likely top ten before the race. Five of the six finishers so far are in my chosen top ten. This isn’t magic.
The Iditarod is only for the hardest, most experienced and most persistent mushers. Even the presently dominant Dallas Seavey took ten years to become an “overnight star”, and before that he was in the Junior Iditarod, and before that he grew up in the mushing household of Mitch Seavey, another multiple champion, who this year came second and at stages looked like a possible winner. In short, Dallas has been preparing all his life to take a shot at the Iditarod championship. So what is surprising isn’t that experience counts for so much but that so many outsiders (Butcher, King, to name just two) came and conquered.
The two photographs of Aliy Zirkle (courtesy of the excellent Alaska Dispatch News) demonstrate my other point as well as words can. First the public relations shot: Doesn’t it just look like a carefree camping holiday, albeit a bit extended at a 1000 miles? And then the hard reality: Running a thousand miles behind a dog-sled in sub-zero temperatures, eight and a half days over a thousand miles to be even in contention. After subtracting 40 hours of mandatory rest for the dogs, that’s nearly 150 miles per day average including all other feeding and rest stops.
Dallas Seavey, into White Mountain at 0948, has left a wake-up call for 1430. He can leave, his mandatory 8hr rest expired, at 1748. Mitch Seavey, in at 1027, and Brent Sass, in at 1140, will be 39m and 1h52m behind him when they exit White Mountain.
Aliy Zirkle, out of Elim at 0924, is out of it unless there is an upset ahead of her. At this stage it looks like the rest of the top ten will be made up of Marrs, Kaiser, Leiftseth Ulsom, Burmeister, Petit, Johannessen, with King, Sorlie, Phillips, Beals and Baker pressing for a place, a hard-fought second tier.
At the head of the field, Mitch Seavey and Brent Sass have 77 miles to make up 39m and 112m respectively. But Dallas Seavey has only 9 dogs left, whereas Mitch has 12 and Brent has 13. Weather conditions, especially the wind, may count for as much as Dallas’s youth and strength, or so Mitch will hope. Brent must hope for an upset.
In his record year of 2014 Dallas Seavey left Shaktoolik on the Sunday morning at 1028. This year he left at 1027. That record year he left Shaktoolik with 13 dogs. This year he has 9. He says he likes a light team for a fast end run. However that may be, other top contenders, spotting a possible chink, will press Dallas hard, and that could lead to a new record, and possibly an upset too.
Others still on the trail from Unalakleet appear mostly out of contention, though there is still time for an upset to bring them back into play. Photos, from the top, D Seavey, Sass, Zirkle and M Seavey.
In theory any of the 85 runners can win but many know that just finishing the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is a higher accolade than is available in almost any other sport. Realistically, even with catastrophic lack of snow on the trail to create upsets, most literally and dangerously, the winner will come from fewer than twenty men and women.
For a start, remember this. The race is so dangerous that the organizers don’t let in anyone who doesn’t have substantial experience in lesser races, some of them as long, and some of them almost as dangerous. Though some are called “rookies”, there are no real rookies in this race. Everyone is experienced, and experience counts for a very great deal, which is how come there are so many middle-aged men among the champions and would-be champions.
Also, this is a sled dog race; the humans are there only to feed and tend the dogs. And dogs, unlike for instance horses, cannot be driven to work. If the dogs decide they’re tired or hungry or the conditions are too dangerous, they will lie down and the musher’s run will be over. It has happened, recently, to leading mushers. It can happen again.
Dallas Seavey has to be the odds-on favorite. He’s been in the top five five years in a row, with three victories and the race record. He’s a dominant musher, and you bet against him at your peril. It gets worse for every other musher. In years gone by, Dallas has “built his monster” (his own words) slowly and cautiously in the first part of the race, saving his team for a strong finish. This year, when every other musher was taking the summer off because it was too hot for the dogs to train, Dallas was building his monster inside a refrigerated truck on a treadmill long enough to take his entire team. If Dallas doesn’t need to build his monster, if he comes out of the starting blocks sprinting, he could win again.
Okay, so it’s Dallas Seavey’s race to lose. But there are a lot of hard men and women who would be only too happy to take the Iditarod away from Dallas if he makes the slightest misstep or misjudgment, for which an opportunity arises on the Iditarod every few seconds. Chief among the aspirants is Mitch Seavey, father to Dallas, himself a recent champion, and known for never giving up.
So who do I fancy for an upset? It won’t come as much of a surprise to those of you who’ve gone to the Iditarod with me a few times now that I’ve got my money on Joar Leifseth Ulsom, the Norwegian who has finished in the top ten in every Iditarod he has run, and Jessie Royer, who has five top-ten finishes, including three in the last four years, and five further top-20 finishes.
Some other young guns whose time has come, and that you should take a look at, are Brent Sass, Pete Kaiser and Nicolas Petit.
Also, you can’t discount huge depth of experience, including being champion or close runner-up, so given that they have depth in their kennels, I reckon Jeff King, Aliy Zirkle and Hans Gatt stand a good chance of featuring somewhere in the top ten.
Every year we also follow an outsider but this year I want to break that pattern and follow DeeDee Jonrowe in her 34th Iditarod. DeeDee has a stack of Iditarod awards and prize money, and as recently as 2013 she was tenth, but in 2014 she scratched and last year she was 31st. The question is, is she on the comeback trail this year?
Talking of comeback trails, we’ll also be looking at Lance Mackey. It wasn’t so long ago that he was joking about going straight from Champion to Red Lantern. The man has grace.