Published March 15, 2006
NOME, Alaska – Jeff King's sled dogs loped down Nome's main street under a full moon early Wednesday morning, hundreds of residents cheering their Iditarod victory under the burled arch.
King won his fourth Iditarod with what he called the best sled dog team ever, completing the annual 1,100-mile race from Anchorage to Nome in nine days, 11 hours and 11 minutes.
After a final rest on beds of straw, his dogs finished the last 22-mile leg of the Iditarod at 1 a.m. local time.
"It's a wonderful feeling to have them come in this strong," King said after the race.
He arrived in the old gold rush settlement several hours ahead of projected runner-up Doug Swingley.
King, of Denali, joined Swingley, Martin Buser and Susan Butcher as four-time winners. Rick Swenson is the race's only five-time winner. At 50, King is also the oldest musher to win the world's longest sled dog race.
"It's a very short list of some very talented people," King said. "I feel very proud to be on the same list with them."
For winning the Iditarod, King will receive $69,000 and a new truck. The top 30 finishers split a pot of $795,000. Another $40,000 will be divided between remaining arrivals to Nome.
King previously won the race in 1993, '96 and '98.
"It seemed like I was due. It's really good to be here again," King said.
King and Swingley jockeyed for the lead during the third quarter of the Iditarod, but Swingley's team faded Sunday as the two veteran mushers left the wind-whipped town of Unalakleet, the first race stop on the Bering Sea coast.
Swingley's bold push to catch King on the Yukon River likely sapped the energy of his team. King said he suspected Swingley might be fading as the teams exited the Yukon River at Kaltag.
Swingley won titles in 1995, `99, 2000 and 2001. The Montana musher was the first person from outside Alaska to win the Iditarod.
Eighty-three mushers started this year's race and 11 scratched. As of Wednesday morning, 71 mushers were still working their way up the trail. The farthest back was rookie Ben Valks of Norway, who was in the checkpoint at Galena, about 450 miles from Nome.
The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race passes through 24 checkpoints in villages and wilderness cabins strung along the route. The trail meanders over two steep mountain ranges, the wide, windy Yukon River, and a final stretch up the Bering Sea coast.
Deep, soft snow covered much of the this year's trail, which has been bare ground in many spots in recent years. With the exception of a stretch near Unalakleet, winds were unusually light for front-runners navigating the Bering Sea coast. Temperatures dipped to minus 45 degrees at the halfway checkpoint of Cripple.
Paul Gebhardt, who finished ninth last year, was racing in third place, followed by cancer survivor DeeDee Jonrowe, 51, who has raced 23 times and has 13 top-10 finishes. John Baker of Kotzebue was in fifth.
Mushers will trickle into Nome until early next week.
Rookie Rachael Scdoris of Bend, Ore., could be the first legally blind musher to finish. Scdoris, 21, who scratched last year in her first attempt, was in 58th place on Wednesday near Kaltag. Tim Osmar, a top-20 finisher from last year, is guiding her along the trail.
The race officially started March 5 in Willow. The ceremonial start was held a day earlier in downtown Anchorage. It commemorates a dogsled relay in 1925 that carried serum 674 miles from Nenana to Nome to stop a diphtheria outbreak.