A Leap of Their Own

updated 10/10/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/10/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

LONG GRACEFUL THROWS. BALLETIC leaps. Heart-stopping catches. This is how it should be in America as the leaves begin to turn to red and brown. After all, what is fall without the most American of sports? We're talking, of course, about canine Frisbee.

And so it was on Sept. 24, when 15,000 fans gathered at the base of the Washington Monument to watch the Friskies Canine Frisbee World Championship. The big question was: Could Gary Suzuki and Soarin' Sam repeat? The two had gone to the world championships three times as southwestern champions, winning it all last year. This year, though, they had come in second in the regionals and it looked like the end of a dynasty. But Sam, a 7-year-old Queensland heeler and Australian shepherd mix who came to Suzuki free through a Pennysaver ad, was ready to gut it out one more time. "All you gotta do is take the Frisbee out, and he goes crazy," says Suzuki, 31, a graphic artist who lives in Covina, Calif., with his wife, Alice, 29. "I had to walk him through the routine earlier in the day to take the edge off."

Competing against 13 guy-and-dog teams, Suzuki and Sam began with a moon walk (actually Sam just walked backward) and a synchronized rollover. Then Sam, using Suzuki's back as a launchpad, rocketed skyward five times to snag Frisbees tossed by his partner. The performance was awarded first place by the event's three judges and earned Sam a $1,000 savings bond, a year's supply of dog food and treats and a fancy kennel. "They put out three podiums for the winners, just like in the Olympics," says Suzuki. "Sam was pulling on his leash, and when there was only one podium left, the middle one, he ran straight for it."

There was no unseemly jumping or yapping, though. Sam, says Suzuki, is "a pretty serious guy."

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