Sunday, February 27, 2011

Iditarod 39: Toni's top 10 to watch!

We're a week away from the beginning of the latest Iditarod. Back are some familiar favorites to the race - at least two who said they were going to sit this one out are back - and all are knocking on the door ready to make history. I was originally going to just do a run down of the key players, and that's basically what this will be, but instead of looking at it clinically I will just go with gut feelings and personal opinion. Mainly because now that there are actual mushers reading this blog, well, I just don't feel qualified to make anything more than that. I don't know what I'm talking about, just know my fansense.

1. Mackey. Lance Mackey, to be exact. He's the reigning four time (consecutively at that, a first in Iditarod history) Iditarod champion. He ran last year's race without using his pain killing meds in order to prove a point - that his drug use was not giving him an advantage - I personally felt it also should have sent him a message that he didn't truly need the drugs, but he disagrees. There's been no big press release explaning what he will do this season, but considering the Iditarod was forthcoming last year saying he would not be affected by the new rules, I assume he's taking them with him this time. He's been battling knee problems, after all. Lance had suggested at the end of the race last year that he wasn't going to run this year, but when it came time to sign up last summer, Mackey was among the few who put their name down. Why should he? He's dominated this sport like no other in recent history. The only thing that will keep this team from winning the fifth consecutive title is Mackey's physical health.

2. Hans Gatt was second place last year, and has been knocking on the door for several years. He had a rough time on the Quest (didn't finish) but that might be a good thing going into the Iditarod. His team will have had just a few more days to recoop from their time on the Yukon. It could also hurt because it could be showing the team's weaknesses. With the random weather we've had again this year, who knows what to expect (the Iron Dog race which starts out following the Iditarod Trail had to stop and restart several times due to weather). Hopefully Gatt and his team still have confidence going into the Iditarod and continue their quest for the championship.

3. Dallas Seavey just won his first major race EVER. While he's been named as the one to watch for several years, he's just now starting to see major wins (or, rather one major win). Dallas is a third generation musher, and knows his stuff. He broke top ten two years ago with a sixth place finish, and last year placed two spots higher than his Iditarod Champion father. He is competitive, has set his goals high (he wants to break Rick Swenson's record of being the youngest champion, and he has three years to accomplish that). He went into the Yukon Quest as a rookie looking for it to be a training run for the Iditarod and ended up winning the whole thing after freak storms and accidents took out the main players. The question now is, can Dallas' team keep that momentum going into the Iditarod and are they capable of winning both (a feat only Lance Mackey has accomplished), or will they be too tired to be competitive for the last great race on earth?

4. Hugh Neff was supposed to with the Quest, but after losing one of his dogs during the Quest and scratching because of it, one has to wonder if Neff will be mentally ready to go up against another formidable race. Last year, the Iditarod accomplished a feat it's been trying for all along - no deaths on the trail. This should come as a comfort to Neff, but at teh same time - it's not a sure thing that it won't happen again. Will Neff be willing to push his team to be competitive or will he be gun shy?

5. Mitch Seavey won the Iditarod in 2004 and has stayed in the top ten ever since. He saw his son pass him and head into Nome ahead of him last year, and he's seeing quite a few new strategies pass him by. I wouldn't count Mitch out yet, though. He's one of those silent types who, at any moment, could come around and surprise us. But it seems that he relies heavily on sticking to his plan, and having others follow it. That's not to say he won't be in the mix or even win the thing again.

6. Paul Gebhardt has been one of the top contenders in the race for years. I honestly can't remember a time when I haven't heard Gebhardt and the Iditarod. He's one of those gotta pull fors because you really do feel that he should win it at least once. Just because he's a great guy, great musher, his dogs are awesome... But something always gets in the way of victory. Still, he's always one of those teams that strong up to the end, and you cannot count him out.

7. Sebastian Schnuelle was supposedly pulling a Jeff King and retiring after last year. Well, the retirement was short lived. He ran a great Quest, though was fouled up when helping other mushers out of the Yukon River, and gave Dallas a run for his money coming in very close behind Dallas (Dallas' team was just out of the finish line chute when Schnuelle's came in). My mom likes him just because of his hair. Go Figure. With King out of the way I see Schnuelle being the team that challenges Mackey's more than anyone else.

8. Dee Dee Jonrowe has an outside shot at a win. She is all over the map in finishes. She was supposed to take over for Susan Butcher as the next lady champion and it hasn't ever happened. Still, she's tough as nails running the Iditarod shortly after battling (and beating!) breast cancer - though afterwards she said it was too soon to come back. Her mom's been foremost in her mind the last couple of years as she battles her own bout of cancer (recurring). Look for her to be top fifteen, but she might get lucky and finally hold off the big boys.

9. Martin Buser hasn't won an Iditarod in a while, but still holds the record for fastest win. He's dedicated to his dogs first, sport second. Happy dogs are the goal for Martin, and he's a fan favorite because of it. But don't think he isn't competitive, he always manages to stay in the thick of things. Martin just has to be willing to push just a little bit harder. This isn't the 90s anymore, he's gotta be willing to play the game a bit differently now.

10. Rick Swenson is looking to see Mackey tie his record five wins. This might be the year that lights a fire under his butt as his "king of the Iditarod" title is now completely in jeopardy (if it wasn't already surpassed after Mackey's history making win last year). It'd be great to see this long ago champion take a whack at a sixth title, but I'm not sure his team is built for the new generation of racing. It's still a team to watch, though, if for no other reason than history.

So who do YOU think/want to win? Be sure to vote in the poll on my blog! (It's to the left of the blog entries)

No comments:

Post a Comment