— Never disparage Americans who celebrate their roots, even at the World Beard and Moustache Championship, where a hairy Alaskan took on heavily favored German competitor — and lost by a whisker.
Just as Kenyans seem to dominate marathons, Germans triumphantly hold their shaggy chins high in facial hair beauty pageants — and that proved true at the sixth World Beard and Moustache Championship in Carson City, Nev., where 56 of 130 competitors came from the land of schnitzel and lederhosen.
With gravity-defying black whiskers, Karl-Heinz Hille of Berlin took top honors in the overall grand championship, as men competed with styles ranging from "Fu Manchu" and "Garibaldi" to "natural."
Alf Jarrald, a Londoner, took second place, while Dave Traver, winner of Alaska's "Mr. Fur Face" in 2000, was the second runner-up.
Hours before parading before a panel of judges, contestants waxed, gelled and blow-dried their whiskers — no easy feat for hopefuls like Kai Cofer, who sports a finely braided, knee-length beard.
"The Germans have had beard clubs for years, but America has a great tradition for beards," says Phil Olsen, a hirsute lawyer from Lake Tahoe, Nev., who brought the contest to America for the first time.
U.S. corporate culture might demand a cleanly shaven face, but Olsen points to a tradition for American beards that includes everyone from Abraham Lincoln to members of ZZ Top.
"Tell me you don't trust bearded men," says Olsen. "What about Santa? What about Jesus? Look in a history book and see all the great men with beards."
Whiskered Woman Joins National Beard Registry As women reach the upper echelons of business and power-lift in weight rooms, facial hair remains one of the last bastions of male superiority.
Now, however, even bearded ladies are stepping forward. The Internet's National Beard Registry (www.nationalbeardregistry.org) tells The Wolf Files that 10 days ago, the first female member joined its ranks.
The Web site, started last year, celebrates fuzzy-faced Americans. Its database allows you to find the best beards near you. There are more than 241 hairy mugs registered for your viewing pleasure — and at least 500 more applicants waiting eagerly to be listed.
Some guys have long braided beards that run down to their belt buckle. But you don't need to be a showman. Just register, send your picture, and you're among the few who proudly hold your hairy chin high.
Jerry Jackson, a 53-year-old computer programmer, created the site with his wife after attending a folk festival last year. They intended it as a good-natured way to let America know that it's still OK to let your facial hair grow long, no matter what the boss thinks.
"Some people say growing a beard is radical," says Jackson. "But if you think about all the presidents with mutton chops, and bearded generals, it couldn't be more traditional.
"Then again, John Lennon and Bob Dylan wore beards," he says. "So let's not pigeon-hole bearded Americans. They cover both ends of the political and cultural spectrum."
Jackson plays guitar with a folk-rock band, the New Arkadelphians, bearded musicians who celebrate their hairy ways in song. He boasts that his wife of 10 years has never seen him without facial hair.
But all too often, beards are associated with recluses. "Al Gore loses an election and he grows a beard," says Jackson.