ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) – Dallas Seavey claimed his fifth victory in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race early Monday morning, reaching the finish line on this year’s shortened course through the Alaskan wilderness just after 5 a.m. Alaska time.
Seavey, 34, completed this year’s race in seven days, 14 hours and 8:57 minutes. In 2012, he became the youngest Iditarod champion.
The third-generation Iditarod musher has now tied Rick Swenson for the most victories. He was greeted at the finish line by his father, three-time champion Mitch Seavey, and will pocket about $40,000 in prize money.
“I’ve looked up to Iditarod champions my whole life, and I’ve dreamed about this my whole life,” Seavey said in an interview at the end of the race.
For the first time ever, Nome was not the site of the Iditarod finish. This year’s race, over a course that was drastically altered because of the coronavirus pandemic, ended at the same spot where the mushers had started on March 7, a secluded riverside location about 75 miles (120 km) north of Anchorage.
Instead of the traditional trek to Nome that spans nearly 1,000 miles (1,610 km), mushers traversed an 840-mile (1,350-km) out-and-back route on the southern part of the traditional trail. Stopovers at Native villages along the way were eliminated this year, and checkpoints were set up in spots isolated from any communities.
The throngs of cheering fans that typically greet mushers along the route were absent this year. Access at the start, finish and the checkpoints was strictly limited to staffers, volunteers and support teams, along with a small press pool.
The starting field of only 46 dog teams was one of the smallest in decades. Several mushers, including defending champion Thomas Waerner of Norway, were not able to travel with their dogs to Alaska because of coronavirus restrictions.
The ceremonial start in Anchorage, a March tradition that usually draws masses of fans and tourists to Alaska’s largest city, was canceled due to infection concerns.
Mushers, officials and volunteers were subject to frequent COVID-19 tests before and during the race. One musher, Gunnar Johnson of Minnesota, had to drop out on Wednesday after he tested positive for the virus.
Two potential race winners also suffered early exits. Aliy Zirkle, who has finished in second place three times, was severely injured in a fall on the second day of the race and evacuated by the Alaska National Guard to an Anchorage hospital.
Pete Kaiser, the 2019 champion and the first Native Yup’ik musher to win the race, scratched on Saturday after his dogs fell ill.
Mushers and dogs enjoyed unusually good snow conditions but the contestants had to endure temperatures that dropped to as low as minus 55 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 48 degrees Celsius), according to a news report from the trail.
(Reporting by Yereth Rosen in Anchorage, Alaska; Editing by)