Mackey wins third consecutive Iditarod
NOME, Alaska -- Make it three Iditarods in a row for Lance Mackey.
The musher from Fairbanks won the 1,100-mile trek across the Alaska wilderness Wednesday in the world's most famous sled dog race. And it wasn't even close.
Mackey slapped hands with fans along Nome's Front Street. About a block from the finish line, he raised both arms in victory and rode that way into the chute at 11:38 a.m., hours ahead of his nearest competitors in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Immediately after winning, he gave treats to his dogs, calling them the "real heroes."
"This never gets old," he said at the finish line as he hugged two of his dogs.
"It's pretty awesome. Pretty cool."
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin congratulated Mackey by phone.
"We are so proud of you, Lance, and we're considering this the greatest team in Iditarod history," Palin said.
She also told the 38-year-old Mackey, a throat cancer survivor, "You continue to give all of us hope, the adversity that you have overcome, the challenges you've met, believe me, it resonates across our nation and across our world."
Mackey commended his "little superstar Maple," a 3-year-old female who was in the lead for much of the last part of the race. He hauled her and 9-year-old Larry, one of his traditional lead dogs, onto the stage with him.
Mackey became the third musher in the race's 37-year history to win in three consecutive years, joining Susan Butcher (1986-88) and Doug Swingley (1999-01).
He finished about six hours ahead of the second- and third-place mushers, Sebastian Schnuelle of Canada and John Baker of Kotzebue.
He increased his lead along the wind-swept western coast of Alaska. Fierce, biting winds blew in off the Bering Sea, forcing temperatures to 50 below zero. Many mushers waited out the storm in checkpoints.
In Mackey's two previous victories, he headed into the Iditarod about two weeks after winning the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race, considered a tougher race.
He didn't run the Yukon Quest this year, choosing instead to train an Alaska Native musher for the Iditarod.
Sixty-seven teams began the race more than a week ago in Willow, about 50 miles north of Anchorage. Ten teams have scratched or been withdrawn.
Three dogs have died in this year's race. Two dogs were on the team of rookie Lou Packer of Wasilla, who scratched after he was found Monday 22 miles past the Iditarod checkpoint by searchers in a plane. He told the Anchorage Daily News he believes the two dogs froze to death in the high winds.
With the win, Mackey received $69,000 and a new pickup. After giving the truck from the 2007 victory to his wife and trading in last year's for a sports car, he said he's keeping the apple red pickup.
The prize money's nice, too.
"First round's on me," he jokingly told the hundreds of people who lined three-deep along Front Street to see the stretch of the race. It was brilliantly sunny for the noontime finish, but temperatures hovered at 15 below zero.
After what Mackey went through this year in getting his team through a brutal wind storm, spectator Terry Dillon said Mackey is the epitome of the Iron Man.
"Iron Man or crazy, either one or both," he said. "Just a good old Alaska guy."