BEGINNING THE END OF AN ERA

JAMES P. WELCHBeginning the End of an Era,by Jim Welch Bobby Fischer, the greatest of American chess players defeated then reigning world champion Boris Spassky in 1972 for the World Chess Championship. Speaking of his chess matches (presumably) Fischer later said, “The object is to crush the opponent's mind. I like the moment when I break a man’s ego.” Between 1968 and 1978 George Attla finished first (five times) or second (six times) in Fur Rendezvous races. The only people to beat him were Roland Lombard (’69, ’70, ’71, ‘74) and Carl Huntington (’73, ’77). He was the most relentless force at a time of stiff competition. But as many times as he won, George Attla did not like to come in second. In 1979 Doc Lombard was running his 22nd consecutive Rendezvous. The previous decade Roland “Doc” Lombard was the dominant power in the Fur Rendezvous, stringing together an impressive legacy of victories in ’63, ’64, ’65, ’67, ’69, ’71 and ’74. And though an aging Doc Lombard finished as high as fifth even up to 1980, he would never again pose a serious challenge to win. By the end of the 70’s, Carl Huntington however, was a different matter. After his victory in 1977, Carl Huntington did not race in the 1978 Rendezvous, which was the first I ever witnessed, a notable, interesting and exciting race for several reasons. I remember watching the venerable Ray Jackson, an Eskimo from Noorvik with a Ho Chi Minh beard who drove his team of eight dogs to an eighth place finish on the first day before scratching on Day 3. The field boasted 33 teams including four past champions and marked the last high finish for an all Siberian Husky team. Throughout the 70’s Earl Norris regularly finished in the top 10 (4th in ’71, 5th in ’74, 6th in ’76, 8th in ‘75) with his purebred Siberian Husky teams. In 1978 he was beat out for 10th place (the last paying position at that time) by Rendezvous rookie Charlie Champaine. No purebred team since has placed higher than Earl Norris’ 11th place finish in 1978.Encouraged by his finish and ready to improve and expand his kennel, Charlie Champaine went to George Attla the next summer to breed some of his dogs. George responded, “First time in the Rendezvous – you finished 10th ? No, I don’t think so. That’s too close.” The race begins long before the starting line.So the 1979 Rendezvous was especially anticipated because Carl Huntington was back to race, the first time since his 1977 victory. George Attla had been racing Outside that year and either because of truck trouble or weather problems, barely made it to the race in time. He could not make it to the Wednesday night drawing, arriving in Anchorage only the day before the race.After the first day of racing on Friday Carl Huntington had built a 2 minute 45 second lead over a 4th place George Attla. Reporters asked George after the race if he felt the long days on the road had affected his team and what did he expect in the next day’s heat? Admitting his disappointment, George replied that in the next heat his team “is either going to do a lot better or a lot worse.”On Day 2 Carl went out first; George left the start line in fourth position six minutes after Carl. This was the first Rendezvous I ever observed and I had not yet started to log checkpoint times so can’t give blow-by-blow details. But my vantage point that day was at the top of Cordova Hill, Anchorage’s equivalent of the Boston Marathon’s Heartbreak hill, a mile and a half from the finish.Carl Huntington was running up the hill behind his team. As he crested the top of Cordova hill and got back on the runners the crowd gasped then cheered. Carl turned to look behind him only to see George Attla turning the corner below, kicking and charging powerfully just two hundred yards behind, having gained nearly six minutes in this one day. Led by Freckles and Trot, George’s team would soon catch and pass Carl on the streets before the heat was completed.I cannot say for sure it went beyond that race, but I can say I witnessed the moment that day when George Attla crushed Carl Huntington’s mind in the 1979 Fur Rendezvous. I don’t know if his ego was broken, but Carl Huntington ran only one more Fur Rendezvous after that race and never beat George Attla again.The summer after Carl Huntington won in 1977, beating George by barely two minutes, George very deliberately set out to buy up the river dogs that Carl had leased or borrowed so Carl would not have access to them the next time. He then resold the dogs, scattering them around the country and Canada, far enough to put them beyond Carl’s reach. In 1977, Carl Huntington beat George Attla by a little over two minutes. In 1979, George Attla beat Carl Huntington by more than ten minutes. George Attla did not like to come in second. He went on to win in ’81 and ’82, his ninth and tenth World Championship, his own legacy firmly established.Boris Spassky said, “Chess is like life;” Bobby Fischer said, “Chess is life.”

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