Baker captures Iditarod

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Associated Press
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
— John Baker crossed the finish line first Tuesday in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race to reclaim the title of Iditarod champion for an Alaska native musher.

Baker, 48, of Kotzebue steered his dog team down the main drag in this gold rush town on Alaska’s western coast to win the 1,150-mile race from Anchorage to Nome, and get his name in the record books.

He is the first Alaska native musher to win the world’s longest sled dog race since Jerry Riley did it in 1976.

Baker also shattered exactly by three hours the race record held by four-time champion Martin Buser, who completed the 2002 race in eight days, 22 hours and 46 minutes. Baker completed the race in 8 days, 19 hours and 46 minutes.

“Running a team like this, there is nothing better,” Baker said. “I am really proud of this.”

He said this year’s running was an “incredible race for me.”

The soft-spoken Baker then began shaking hands with some of the hundreds of people who lined up to watch the finish shortly after sunrise on a crisp (2 degrees) but clear morning.

He was greeted by a group of musicians playing Eskimo drums. Many in the crowd wore traditional Eskimo parkas.

Baker said he gets strength from Eskimo dancing and drumming and was pleased to see the Eskimo drummers greet him at the race’s end. He said that is how he had imagined it would be if he ever won the Iditarod.

While Baker is the first Alaska native to win the race in many years, he is the first Eskimo to ever do it.

The race’s top 30 finishers will share in a $528,000 purse. Baker received $50,400 and a new truck for winning. Baker had 11 top-10 finishes in 15 years of Iditarod racing before earning his first victory.

Ramey Smyth, 35, challenged Baker toward the end of the race. He closed the gap to less than one hour but couldn’t catch Baker down the stretch.

Smyth arrived a little more than an hour after Baker to finish in second place.

Sixty-two teams began the Iditarod on March 6. As of Tuesday morning, 51 teams remained in the race, with the others either scratching or being withdrawn.

Last updated: 4:04 pm Wednesday, December 19, 2012

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