FAIRBANKS - Leroy Shangin broke strings at the Carlson Center. Nicole Colbert broke into a laugh.
Shangin's intensity and Colbert's calm manner helped each capture titles Friday afternoon in the excruciating ear pull of the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics.
Shangin, 26, of Anchorage repeated as the men's winner and Colbert, who was Miss WEIO 2007 and Miss Indian World 2008, earned the women's honor in her debut in the event that's based on the competitor's ability to withstand pain a trait sometimes necessary to survive the harsh realities of the North.
It's an event, too, where a strong mind goes with strong cartilage.
"I believe that if I can make my mind understand what I'm going through, I can survive anything," said Colbert, a 25-year-old from Napakiak. "If I so happen to get stuck in the wilderness, my mind will be more powerful than my body."
The ear pull involves two people sitting and facing each other with twine looped around their ears right to right and left to left. A person wins when the loop slips off his opponent's ear in the best-of-three challenge.
Dealing with potential injuries while commercial fishing on Chingik Bay during the past 20 years helped prepare Shangin for the ear pull, which he has competed in five times in WEIO.
"Broken fingers, sprained ankles and broken ribs you have to deal with all of that," he said. "If you have a broken finger and you can't withstand the pain or you're whining about it, you're off my boat."
Colbert took a break from determination to laugh with Mitsi Evans of Fairbanks before their second attempt in the women's final. Colbert won on the first pull and before the second attempt, she and Evans, 29, broke into laughter in reaction to some words from Nicole Johnston, a judge and a member of the WEIO Board of Governors.
"She (Johnston) had mentioned that all women were queens," Colbert, also on the WEIO board, said. "She said Nicole, 'you're a queen,' and I said, 'No, I'm retired,' and we were kind of laughing about that."
The motivational speaker added ear pull titlist to her resume with a calm, quick jerk on the second attempt.
"She was very calm and collected," said Evans, the 2009 women's winner and 14-year ear pull veteran.
Colbert decided to enter the ear pull after winning the women's ear weight competition as a rookie at last year's WEIO. That event, taking place tonight, involves walking as far as possible with 16 one-pound lead ingots hanging on a looped twine from one ear.
"That was out of the blue, and I was very excited," Colbert recalled. "I decided to give this a try, too, because I know my ears are my grandpa's ears; they're very strong."
Soldotna's Amber Glenzel placed third among the 20 women in the ear pull after she took third earlier Friday in the Indian stick pull. Her daughter, Christine, was the women's Indian stick pull winner. Fairbanks' Rachel Ahsogeak placed second.
Shangin took the men's gold medal in the Indian stick pull, which consists of using one hand to pull a small, greased stick from an opponent's hand. Tyonek's Tim Standifer and Fairbanks' Matthew Evans placed second and third, respectively, in the event that simulates pulling a seal from a hole in the sea ice.
There were no broken sticks in the Indian stick pull, but the men's ear pull featured at least 10 broken strings, according to event official Garry Hull Jr. He also estimated that five broken strings involved matches with Shangin.
If a string broke during a match, the contestants had to start over.
The officials even double-twisted a string to strengthen it for the men's final between Shangin and Anthony Binion, a 15-year-old student at Effie Kokrine Charter School in Fairbanks. The string broke twice, forcing them to go four attempts before Shangin was declared the winner after officials determined that a gash on Binion's left ear was too severe for him to do another round.
Binion had won the first attempt, and following consecutive string breaks, Shangin prevailed in the fourth round.
"It was painful, man," Binion said while holding a paper towel to his ear and leaving to seek medical treatment.
Shangin hugged Binion after the final amid an outpouring of applause in the Carlson Center.
"I've known Anthony since he was 5 ... I'm glad he got involved again this year and he did pretty good," Shangin said.
Focusing away from his opponent's ear helped Shangin repeat for the men's title among 12 other entries Friday.
"I fix (eyes) on something like the wall or sign," he said. "Then when they say 'Ready, pull,' I take a deep breath and lean back."
Mark Tubin finished third in the men's ear pull.