Defending champ Mackey leads Iditarod

March 5, 2008 at 2:29 PM

TAKONTA, Alaska, March 5 (UPI) -- The sun rose in Alaska Wednesday with defending champion Lance Mackey leading the 2008 Iditarod dog sled race at the Takonta checkpoint.

Mackey and his team galloped into the riverside village just before 2 a.m., 24 minutes ahead of four-time champion Jeff King and 30 minutes ahead of Norway's Kjetil Backen.

The roughly 50 people who live in Takonta had grilled steaks and freshly baked pie waiting for the mushers, the Anchorage (Alaska) Daily News said.

"They're wonderful people," King said. "They've always made me feel like I was special."

The newspaper said some fast times are normally turned in for the 18-mile run from McGrath to Takonta since the terrain is flat and the distance is short enough that the mushers don't have to stop to give the dogs a breather.

The annual Iditarod covers 1,150 miles from Anchorage to Nome and takes 10-to-17 days to complete.

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