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Former champions – Baker, King, Mackey – talk 2013

John Baker, 2011 Iditarod champion

Kotzebue musher John Baker, moments before crossing the finish line to become the champion of Iditarod 2011. Photo by David Dodman.

Few would doubt 2011 Iditarod champion John Baker – a beloved figure throughout Alaska, especially near his hometown of Kotzebue – when he says that “there’s no doubt that we’re here to race, we’re here to win.”

The same can-do spirit applies to fellow race champ Jeff King as Iditarod 2013 gets underway, while Lance Mackey is perhaps less confident this year.

But in their pre-race interviews with KNOM’s Laureli Kinneen, all three men explained that the Last Great Race isn’t just about making it to Nome first, and certainly not by themselves.

Baker waxes with appreciation about the support network that continues to make his ascendent mushing career possible, and he sees that career as an opportunity, in turn, to have a broader impact:

“If we can take something like the Iditarod, a good thing like that, and make it into a positive for people all over the state, then by golly, we’re going to do that.”

 

Jeff King told KNOM’s Laureli Kinneen “I feel great.” The four-time champion is hopeful about making it five in 2013: “It’s just a dog race, and if I won it four times, I can win it five times.”

King has a few unique tricks up his sleeve this year. He reports incorporating custom design elements into his sled, including articulating sections that can bend and pivot independently with the trail, and a special trail cooker that can be used while mushing and even function as a heated seat. (No word on whether King’s sled will feature cup-holders, too.)

At the same time, King sees Iditarod 2013 as an opportunity not just to compete but, also, to enjoy himself. “I just really feel so lucky I have found something that I can carve a life out of that is so much fun,” he says. “I wonder what my life would have been like without the Iditarod race, and I don’t know.”

 

Lance Mackey, meanwhile, struck a more melancholic tone in his interview.

Fresh off of a scratch from the 2013 Yukon Quest that he describes as “the toughest decision that I’ve ever made in my life,” the four-time Iditarod champion seemed to be placing himself as the underdog this year: “I’m not really excited about this one (the 2013 Iditarod), like I have been in the past. (With regards to my dog team)… I’m taking basically the JV squad.”

“I’m going to definitely be part of the race,” Mackey says, “but my ultimate goal is to have fun.”

 

As of Sunday evening, John Baker is reported in 24th position; he arrived into the Yentna checkpoint at 6:45pm with 16 dogs. Jeff King is in 9th position; he departed Yentna at 6:31pm with 14 dogs (dropping two). Lance Mackey is in 5th position; he left Yentna at 6:04pm with 16 dogs.