Originally created 03/16/04

Seavey takes Iditarod lead



SHAKTOOLIK, Alaska -- Mitch Seavey led the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Monday, the first musher in and out of this village 219 miles from the Nome finish line.

He reached the checkpoint at 10:31 p.m. Sunday, departing at 2:40 a.m. Monday for the 48-mile stretch to the Koyuk checkpoint.

"I'm just so impressed with my dog team," Seavey told KNOM radio Sunday in Unalakleet. "I can hardly believe it."

Seavey is in his 11th Iditarod, with his best performance fourth in 1998.

Before he left Unalakleet, Seavey said four of his 11 dogs had kennel cough, but they made the 42-mile trip to Shaktoolik and were still with him when he left.

Nine other mushers had left Shaktoolik by late Monday morning. In second place was three-time winner Jeff King, followed by Charlie Boulding and Norway's Kjetil Backen.

Backen, who had been leading, lost time outside Unalakleet when one of his dogs collapsed and died Sunday.

Iditarod officials said preliminary findings indicate the 7-year-old male named Takk died of blood loss associated with gastric ulcers. The dog was one of two key lead dogs that took Robert Sorlie to victory in last year's race. Sorlie is not running this year.

From Shaktoolik, the trail bears north, covering several miles of land before touching on Norton Bay. The terrain is mostly gentle swells. Closer to Koyuk the ice is often rough.

A record 87 mushers began the 1,100-mile race from Anchorage to Nome on March 6. Seven mushers have scratched, including four-time Iditarod winner Doug Swingley after the cold affected his eyes and he needed immediate medical attention.

This year's purse is more than $700,000 with a first-place prize of $69,000 and a new Dodge truck.

On the Net:

www.iditarod.com