2011 Iditarod begins today

The 2011 Iditarod beings today!The 2011 edition of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race gets underway today in Anchorage, Alaska, where 62 mushers, and their teams of dogs, will set out on an 1131 mile journey to Nome. The event, which is billed as “The Last Great Race,” is an annual test of stamina and skill for both the dogs and their drivers.

The Iditarod was first run back in 1973 and over the years has easily become the most popular sporting event in Alaska. The event pays homage to an historic sled dog run that took place in 1925 in which teams of mushers raced against the clock to deliver a lifesaving diphtheria serum to Nome at a time when many children were stricken with the disease. Norwegian Gunnar Kaasen and his lead dog Balto became well known celebrities for completing the final leg into the town with the medical supplies in tow.

Today, the ceremonial start to the Iditarod will take place on 4th Avenue and D Street in Anchorage, where large crowds will gather to see the teams off. The real race gets underway tomorrow however, when the action moves to Willow. From there, the competition will truly get underway, with the top mushers expected to arrive in Nome in about 10-12 days depending on weather conditions.

The field is full of experienced teams, but the man to beat is still Lance Mackey, who is the four-time defending champ. Mackey and his dogs have easily been the fastest team over the past few years, and until someone steps up to take the crown, he’s still the odds on favorite. He may be challenged by 23-year old Dallas Seavey however. Seavey, who placed eighth last year, recently won the 1000-mile long Yukon Quest, and seems to be an emerging force in the sport.

Good luck to all the mushers and their dogs. Race well and stay safe on the trail.

[Photo credit: Kevin Horan/Getty Images]