Alaska native John Baker wins his first Iditarod and sets new race record
With 10 dogs in harness, musher John Baker passed under the burled arch that marks the finish line in Nome, Alaska, at 9:46 a.m. Tuesday to win the 39th Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Covering the 1,131 miles of the Southern Route in 8 days, 19 hours, 46 minutes and 39 seconds, the native Alaskan from Kotzebue has set a race record, besting the time set in 2002 by Martin Buser by about three hours.
"I feel good. Real good," Baker, 48, told the Anchorage Daily News at the finish line. "Running a team like this, there's nothing better. They are willing to climb any obstacle and make the most of it. I'm really proud of them."
Instead of the head-to-head finish anticipated against Ramey Smyth, who had been in seemingly close pursuit leaving recent checkpoints, Baker pulled away from the Willow, Alaska, musher Tuesday morning, thereby eliminating any chance of Smyth overtaking him. Smyth crossed the finish line in second place 64 minutes later, also under Buser's previous record time.
Baker's victory also ended Lance Mackey's Iditarod consecutive win streak at four, though the Fairbanks musher admitted Sunday that he wouldn't win this year. Mackey is currently listed as running in 16th place with seven dogs still in harness.
Once the last musher is off the trail -- a spot currently held by rookie Kris Hoffman -- the Widow's Lamp hanging from the burled arch will be extinguished, marking the end of the 2011 Iditarod.
-- Kelly Burgess
Photo: Musher John Baker pets his lead dogs Snickers, left, and Velvet after winning the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday, also setting a race record. Credit: Bob Hallinen / Anchorage Daily News