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Iditarod: 5 memorable ends to the 1,000-mile race

Tuesday - 3/11/2014, 3:12pm  ET

In this 1978 photo, Dick Mackey, right, runs in front of Rick Swenson, left, in a sprint to the Iditarod finish in Nome, Alaska. The 1978 dash down Front Street left Mackey as the winner with one second to spare over Swenson, who went on to become the Iditarod's only five-time champion. (AP Photo/Anchorage Daily News, Rob Stapleton)
  • Gallery: (32 images)

RACHEL D'ORO
Associated Press

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) -- In the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, there's always a heart-pounding thrill at the finish line in Nome, a rollicking frontier city on Alaska's western coast.

The city's siren blares as the winning team trots along Front Street at the edge of the Bering Sea. Spectators are heavily bundled against the bone-chilling cold as they cheer and chant the victor's name.

This year, a sudden storm blew the leader, Jeff King, off course just 25 miles from the finish, and Dallas Seavey rallied from third place early Tuesday to defeat Aily Zirkle by just 2 minutes and 22 seconds.

Here are five other memorable finishes in the annual race that began in 1973:

WINNING BY THE BLINK OF AN EYE

Only one second separated the winner from the runner-up in 1978, the closest race ever. The frantic dash down Front Street left Dick Mackey as the winner over Rick Swenson, who went on to become the Iditarod's only five-time champion.

QUEENS OF THE TRAIL

In 1985, Libby Riddles forged through a blinding blizzard nobody else dared to enter to become the first woman to win the race. It took 18 days and 20 minutes -- the fourth slowest Iditarod on record. The late Susan Butcher, who would go on to win four Iditarods, was knocked out of the running that year when a moose ripped through her team, killing two dogs and severely injuring several others. Butcher defended her team using only her ax and parka against the moose, which was shot by another musher.

MASTERS OF MOMENTUM

The 2011 winner, John Baker, held the record for the fastest Iditarod completed, clocking in at the Nome finish line in eight days, 18 hours and 46 minutes. That time was four hours faster than the previous record set by Martin Buser in 2002. This year, Seavey set a new record, finishing in eight days, 13 hours, 4 minutes and 19 seconds.

EMPLOYING A LITTLE TRICKERY

Lance Mackey, the son of photo-finisher Dick Mackey, pulled off a stunt in 2008 that proved to be the turning point in his second victory of what would be four consecutive Iditarod wins. He could not shake four-time champion King for much of the trail until the two reached Elim, a checkpoint 123 miles from Nome. Mackey, who was leading by three minutes, made a show of settling in for a nap, telling checkpoint volunteers to wake him in an hour. With King soon snoring, Mackey sneaked out of the checkpoint 70 minutes ahead of his opponent, beating him to Nome by one hour and 19 minutes.

POKEY CHAMPIONSHIPS

The Iditarod's first winner, Dick Wilmarth, completed the race in a whopping 20 days and 49 minutes, followed by an even slower race the following year, when the winner took 20 days, 15 hours and one minute to reach the finish line. Winning times have gradually quickened, thanks to innovations in dog breeding and gear and stiffer competition among mushers. Times finally reached the nine-day mark in 1995. Even the last musher to reach Nome these days is often faster than the early winning teams.

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Follow Rachel D'Oro at https://twitter.com/rdoro


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