By Yereth Rosen
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - Dallas Seavey, competing against both his father and grandfather, won the 40th annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday, becoming the youngest musher crowned champion of the storied Alaska event. A rare third-generation contestant, 25-year-old Seavey was also the first such member of an Iditarod dynasty to win a race that has grown from an obscure contest into a world-famous sports extravaganza.
Seavey and a team of nine dogs crossed the finish line in the Bering Sea town of Nome with a winning time of nine days, four hours, 29 minutes and 26 seconds after an epic 1,000-mile (1,600-km) trek from Anchorage. Seavey said he felt exhausted just before reaching the trail's end. "It's just now hitting me. About 4 miles ago, I just crashed," he said in the finish chute. Aliy Zirkle, who was vying to become the first woman to win the Iditarod since 1990, finished in second place, reaching Nome exactly one hour after Seavey.
Seavey also defeated his father, 2004 Iditarod champion Mitch Seavey, who was in seventh place as of Tuesday afternoon.
Dallas Seavey's 74-year-old grandfather, Dan Seavey, a veteran of the very first Iditarod in 1973, also competed this year and was in 53rd place when his grandson crossed the Nome finish line.
The winner of the Iditarod race in 1977, Rick Swenson, had long held the record as the youngest champion. He was 26. The new champion lives in Willow, Alaska, where he maintains his own sled-dog kennel. This year's winning time was well off the record pace of eight days, 18 hours, 46 minutes and 39 seconds, set last year by John Baker.
Heavy snows made for slow travel on parts of the trail this year, but conditions were considered safer than usual. Seavey, a former state wrestling champion, used his athletic training to gain an edge in the race. He spent much of the journey running along his sled, lightening the load for his dogs. He wore custom-made snow boots that incorporated elements of running shoes. For winning this year's contest, Seavey will take home a $50,400 cash prize and a new truck, part of a total race purse valued at $550,000. At the finish line, Seavey said: "My grandfather is in the race, my dad is in the race and myself in the race ... It's a great reminder of sled dogs and how important the heritage of sled dogs is to Alaska." Sixty-six mushers and their dog teams started the Iditarod on March 3 in Anchorage. As of Tuesday, 11 had dropped out of competition. They included four-time champion Jeff King, who was attempting a comeback after sitting out of last year's race.
(Editing by Steve Gorman and Mohammad Zargham)