Can anyone match Rick Swenson's 5-win record?
In 1991, Rick Swenson reset the Iditarod bar by winning his fifth title.
A handful of mushers have come close to duplicating that feat. Six mushers have four crowns: Susan Butcher, Martin Buser, Doug Swingley, Jeff King, Lance Mackey and Dallas Seavey. Sadly, Butcher died in 2006, a few months shy of her 52nd birthday. Swingley's last Iditarod was in 2007.
Three are in this year's field of 52, though there are varying degrees of expectation.
Lance Mackey boasts a resume as impressive as any in the race's history. He won four straight titles from 2007–2010, and is still the only one to ever do it. Given how deep and talented the lineups are nowadays, it's a feat which may never be equaled.
Health problems have interfered in his quest for a fifth win. Issues with his hands prevented him from taking part since his last race in 2016. Now, he's back and energized. At 48, he became a father for the third time recently, but his chances of winning are slim.
"Maybe I'm a slow learner," he said. "Maybe I love this sport. Maybe I'm competitive. Maybe I need a new truck." (Which is part of the first-place haul.)
But he'll keep going. When he can't, it will be time to stop.
"There is going to inevitably going to come a day where we aren't physically able. And until that day comes, I'm going to make up mentally what I'm lacking physically," he said. "So all in."
For Martin Buser, this is his 39th race with his last win in 1997. The last time he placed in the top 10 was in 2014, when he finished in sixth place.
"Of course there's always the thought. You never stop believing you might be able to do it," he said.
It would be a win for the ages.
This year marks Jeff King's 28th race. He, too, has waited a while for another win. He had a great chance in 2014 — leading after White Mountain — but was forced to scratch due to weather. His last victory was 2006, but he's placed in the top-10 eight times since then.
King takes another approach about what constitutes victory.
"It's how the dog team performs," he said.
Referring to his second victory in 1996, he said, "I knew winning was not what would make it a successful race. It was doing it well and I did it well that year and I did win."
If he's in contention, watch out.
The final musher on the list has the biggest and best opportunity to get to Swenson and someday even break the mark that he's held for 28 years. The problem is for the second straight year, Dallas Seavey isn't running the Iditarod. He's in Norway again with the Finmarkslopet.
His absence stems from the dog-doping scandal. Seavey was cleared of wrongdoing by the Iditarod Trail Committee, but the feelings are still raw. It's fair to say the race is better with Dallas and Dallas is better with the race. It's hard to imagine that he won't be back one day.
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