Defending Iditarod champion fending off familiar foes

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 18, 2015 12:41 AM

JUNEAU, Alaska (Reuters) - The one person threatening to keep defending Iditarod Sled Dog Race champion Dallas Seavey from his third title in the nearly 1,000 mile (1,600 km) race across the Alaskan wilderness might be another former champion: his father.

Seavey, aiming for his third victory in four years, led his father, Mitch Seavey, with fewer than 75 miles (121 km) of trail left late on Tuesday night.

The race commemorates a 1925 rescue mission that delivered diphtheria serum by sled-dog relay to the western coastal community of Nome, site of the finish line of the 43rd annual event.

Race rules require that all competitors take an eight-hour rest at a checkpoint some 75 miles outside of Nome in White Mountain.

Dallas Seavey completed his rest early Monday evening, leaving his father, Mitch, and veteran challenger Aaron Burmeister, who was the first to reach the race's halfway point late on Thursday, with several hours before they could leave.

A Seavey has won each of the last three races, and both have two titles each.

Mitch Seavey won his first in 2004, and won again in 2013, becoming the oldest competitor to win at age 53. Dallas Seavey first won in 2012, becoming the youngest musher to win at age 25, and won again last year.

This year's winner claims a $70,000 purse plus a pick-up truck.

When the race started more than a week ago, mushers spoke mostly of the alternate course, which was designed to avoid sections that race officials deemed unsafe, and the return of four-time champion Lance Mackey.

But as this year's race developed, talk of a Seavey dynasty emerged when it appeared that both would not only emerge as frontrunners but battle each other for the title.

Before the race, Mitch Seavey said he and his son had been "pretty tight-lipped" about their strategies for years, fearing the other might gain an advantage, but now their relationship is less competitive.

"I think both of our recent success has made us comfortable and secure," Mitch Seavey said. "We are actually having a lot of fun with it."

Dallas Seavey also said before the race he felt the same.

"There are very few people you can talk to about that and have them actually understand what I'm talking about," he said.

"I'm super proud of him. It's great having him in the race, but it's still difficult this time of year."

(Reporting by Steve Quinn; Editing by Curtis Skinner and Paul Tait)