March 13, 2009

Iditarod 2009 Day 6

Out in the snowy desolation of the Innoko River country, two-time defending Iditarod champion Lance Mackey made his move Thursday to grab control of The Last Great Race.
His 5:20 p.m. arrival in the ghost town of Iditarod not only secured the halfway prize of $3,000 in gold nuggets put up by GCI, it also sent a warning to the mushers behind that the man from Fairbanks has a team with the potential to take over this race.
The 90 miles of trail between the old gold camp of Ophir and Iditarod was supposed to be soft and slow. And yet Mackey's dog team averaged about 9 mph. His running time of 9 hours, 56 minutes would have been fast on good trail.

Could Lance be on course for his third straight win? If so that would put him league with Susan Butcher in 86,87, and 88 and Doug Swingley who won in 99, 2000 and 01. But we have to remember it is still a long way to Arch.
I was debating with a friend in Alaska whether our favorite musher Rick Swenson had another win in him. This was when he was in 18th position and the pack was still tight before the layover. Now that things have started to spread out things don't look so hopeful. That may be a reflection of what it takes to be competitive. Swenson has been more successful than any other musher and has wins that span the course of three decades. Three in his first decade of racing 71, 77,81, then again in 82 and 91. Swenson can be credited with turning the dogsled ride to Nome into a real race and was instrumental in advancing the technical side of the race. He has been over the long term the most successful musher ever however he is no longer the threat he once was.
It seems that powerhouse mushers have a certain window of success. Butcher and Swingley (4 wins) dominated for a time and then faded and retired. Four time winner Matin Buser too seems to have lost that edge. Jeff King (4 wins) is still competitive but tying Swensons five wins has so far eluded him.
As Swenson once said when Butcher took over as the dominating force in the race, that special team particularly your leader only comes around once in a lifetime. Add that to the myriad of ways you can loose this race and you gain an appreciation for Swensons success.
Swenson in the 70s, Butcher in the 80s, and Swingley in the 90s. This just may be the Mackey decade.

Link: The History of the Iditarod.

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