AP Photo/Mark Thiessen
Dallas Seavey poses with his lead dogs Reef, left, and Tide after finishing the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, Tuesday, March 15, 2016, in Nome, Alaska. Seavey won his third straight Iditarod, for his fourth overall title in the last five years.

Dallas Seavey Continues Iditarod Dominance With Win

Richard Walker
3/19/16

Iditarod 44 represented all that is surprising and unpredictable about Alaska, as well as all that is gritty and indomitable about the human spirit.

Dallas Seavey, 28, at one time the youngest musher to win the Iditarod (2012), became the youngest to win three consecutive titles (2016, 2015, 2014) when he crossed the finish line in Nome at 2:20 a.m. March 15.

Following Seavey in second place was his father, two-time champion Mitch (2013, 2004), who crossed the finish line 45 minutes later. It’s the second time the father has placed second to the son. It’s the fifth consecutive year that the title has gone to a Seavey.

But fans will equally remember Aliy Zirkle’s third-place finish – her fifth consecutive top-5 finish – after a harrowing nighttime encounter on the trail with a snowmobile in which one of her dogs was injured. The snowmobile was driven by a Nulato man who was allegedly drunk at the time.

RELATED: Iditarod Dog-Slaying Accident ‘Tip of Iceberg’ in Substance Abuse Issues in Rural Alaska

Zirkle and the rest of her team recovered enough emotionally from the incident to finish the race. Jeff King and team later had an encounter with the same snowmobile, which struck and killed one of his dogs and injured two others. King, a four-time Iditarod champion, and team finished ninth – King’s 20th career top-10 finish.

Pete Kaiser, Yup’ik, of Bethel capped a great season – he earlier won his second consecutive Kuskokwim 300 – by placing fifth, arriving in Nome two minutes after fourth-place finisher Wade Marrs. It’s Kaiser’s second fifth-place finish and his third top-10 finish in seven Iditarods.

Joar Leifseth Ulsom of Mo I Rana, Norway, placed sixth – his fourth top-10 Iditarod finish in as many races.

Fourth-year Iditarod competitor Richie Diehl, Dena’ina Athabascan, finished 12th, his career best.

RELATED: Iditarod Updated: Pete Kaiser Fourth at Mid-Point

John Baker, Inupiaq, the last champion before the Age of Seavey, finished 17th, arriving in Nome to traditional drumming, song and dance.

Rookie Lars Monsen, Sami, finished 29th.

Another memorable performance: Mike Williams Jr., Yup’ik, of Akiak (eighth, 2012), skipped the 2015 Iditarod to train for this year’s race. But Akiak is on the front lines of global warming – a large chunk of his father’s property sloughed off into the Kuskokwim River, the permafrost having melted – and it was hard to find suitable places to train because of lack of snow. As the sun set in Nome on March 15, Williams and team (he was down to six dogs, from 16), were five checkpoints back, in Shaktoolik, setting their sights on just finishing the race. They finished 48th, crossing the finish line at 5:15 p.m. March 17.

“The eyes of the world every first Saturday and Sunday in March are on [the Iditarod] because of what could be – the great unknown this trail has to offer all of these mushers, both men and women, over 80 teams this year,” Iditarod commentator Greg Heister said on Iditarod Insider. “In the Alaska Range, the creek and river crossings [were] just a part of what we saw.”

Fellow commentator Bruce Lee added, “Alaska always throws something at the musher. That’s part of the intrigue. Whether windstorms or whatever – water, lack of snow – that’s just part of the Iditarod.”

Lee recalled that at Rainy Pass, mushers and dogs had to cross flowing creeks, exposed because of melted ice. Most mushers and dogs arrived at the Rohn checkpoint with wet gear and in wet clothes. “Then, on the other side of the Alaska Range, they were running on dirt for 20 to 30 miles,” Lee recalled.

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