Mackey retains Iditarod title

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NOME, Alaska (AP) — Lance Mackey has won the 1,100-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race one more time.

Mackey crossed the finish line in Nome on Tuesday afternoon to become the only musher in the 38-year history of the Iditarod to win four consecutive races.

Mackey was cheered by fans bundled up against subzero temperatures to welcome the 39-year-old throat cancer survivor as his team coasted up the main street of this old Gold Rush town.

For winning, Mackey gets a new Dodge truck and $50,400.

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This year’s Iditarod kicked off March 6 with a ceremonial start in Anchorage. That was followed by the competitive start the following day in Willow when 71 teams took to the Iditarod trail and headed to Nome.

“These are my heroes right here,” Mackey said seconds after crossing the finish line as he was giving his dogs a pat on their heads and a kiss. He then planted a kiss on his new truck.

Mackey said his relationship with his team is more rewarding than winning another truck.

“They might not be the fastest team in this race but I think they have the biggest hearts,” he said.

This year’s purse was significantly less than last year when Mackey took home a truck and $69,000. The total purse is $590,000 — down from a high of $925,000 in 2008. Iditarod officials said the struggling economy caused some sponsors to pull their support for the race.

Much of the race again this year was a duel between Mackey — whose father Dick and brother Rick are past winners — and another mushing royal, four-time champion Jeff King of Denali Park. King has said this will be his last Iditarod.

King had been leading much of the race but was overtaken by Mackey on Saturday in the village of Kaltag, about 350 miles from the finish. King chose to rest his team and Mackey, renown for his ability to run his dogs long distances with little rest, opted to keep going.

King cut his rest in Unalakleet to pursue Mackey, who widened the lead after that.

But in the final stretch, Hans Gatt of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, chased Mackey hard, pushing ahead of King in Elim on Monday. The 51-year-old musher, a four-time winner of the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race, was expected to arrive second in Nome.

King, 54, was expected to be third. His last Iditarod win was in 2006, before he relinquished the crown to Mackey.

This year’s Iditarod was marked by bitter cold that plunged to 30 below, further chilled by powerful winds in sections of the trail. Mackey, whose cancer treatments left him with circulation problems, complained the cold was affecting his hands and feet.

Still, the trail was a fast run for front-runners including Ken Anderson of Fairbanks, expected to be fourth into Nome, John Baker of Kotzebue and Hugh Neff of Tok.

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