March 16, 2011

Inupiaq man wins Iditarod

Long a top contender, Baker finally wins the Iditarod

Kotzebue musher sets race record in first victory.

By Kyle Hopkins and Beth Bragg
To the sound of Native drummers and cheering fans, John Baker and his team of record-setting huskies claimed victory in the 39th Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race this morning in Nome, ending Lance Mackey’s string of four victories and securing the first win by a Northwestern Alaska musher in the 1,000-mile race across Alaska.

Baker crossed the line at 9:46 a.m., finishing the race that began March 6 in Willow in 8 days, 19 hours, 46 minutes, 39 seconds and slicing three hours off the previous record.
Kotzebue musher John Baker wins 2011 Iditarod, sets race record

By Matias SaariBaker is also the first Native champion of Inupiaq descent. The late Herbie Nayokpuk, known as the “Shishmaref Cannonball,” came close with second place in 1980 and Joe Garnie was runner-up in 1986.

Baker’s team got tangled briefly on the snow ramp leading to the finish line, so he walked across with leaders Snickers and Velvet while showing little emotion other than waving several times to the festive crowd that basked in the sun under yet another cloudless sky.

“It’s always good to have more heroes within Alaska history and Native history,” said Phillip Blanchett, who as part of the group Pamyua, which greeted Baker with traditional Native drumming at the finish. “Now we’re starting to get these documented heroes that we can celebrate.”

The last Native winner was Jerry Riley of Nenana in 1976, while Emmitt Peters of Ruby in 1975 and Carl Huntington of Galena in 1974 also claimed crowns in the infancy of the Iditarod. All three were Athabascan.

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