Finally getting back in the groove after returning from the World Agility Open Championships in Neeroeteren, Belgium. Zip and I had an amazing time. Both the outbound and return flights were a breeze, I think Zip is getting used being a world traveler. We arrived on Tuesday morning and the weather was very cold, overcast, almost fall-like. Picked up the rental car no problems. The thing about renting a car in Europe is that if you want anything bigger than a Smart Car your only option is manual transmission. I was sharing a car with 3 other teammates so we needed a minivan. I have not driven a stick shift since college, so needless to say I was hoping it was like riding a bike. The guy at the car rental place didn’t seem too concerned, he said it would come back to me no problem. I opted for the insurance so I figured I was covered. Luckily it was like riding a bike, except for trying to find reverse out of the parking lot. After the very nice attendant showed me how to put the car in reverse without making me feel like too much of a dope we were on our way!! The hotel was beautiful, so nice in fact I was surprised they even accepted dogs. The nice thing about Europe is that dogs are pretty much welcome anywhere. The hotel backed up into lots of nature trials which we took full advantage of the first few days.
Wednesday and Thursday were team practice days. It was a good time to get used to the footing and the equipment. Last year the slight changes in equipment specs didn’t seem to bother Zip but this year with our running contacts I wanted to make sure the changes in the DW angles wouldn’t hurt us. Zippy ran great, the footing was a tad deep for my running, but it was firm enough that it did not slow me down too much. I mainly noticed it coming out of my front crosses, sometimes my foot would slide just a bit.
Friday was the first day of competition, my first class was Team Pentathlon Agility I, which is equivalent to a team standard. The course seemed pretty straight forward, my only hesitation was how to handle the DW to a tunnel. I picked a side but was not 100% comfortable with it. That was my first mistake, I allowed the doubt to get in my head. We were having a nice run and then instead of running hard to the end of the DW I hesitated and caused Zip to take the wrong end of the tunnel. Finished the run without any other mistakes, I was pretty mad at myself for hesitating and told myself that would not happen again. As much as it hurts to watch the run its a good way to learn from my mistakes. Here is the video of that run:
The rest of Friday was a mixed bag, we ran Snooker at the end of the day and we had a great opening but then I made my front cross too soon as I approached the #2 in the close and Zip took the back side. I was pretty bummed out after that but I knew I needed to shake it off and not let it effect the rest of my runs. We also ran Individual Pentathlon Agility 1. This was a course by judge Lee Gibson. I usually don’t remember judges’ names but I think I his name will stick in my head for a while. The course was pretty tough but the weave pole entrance was nearly impossible. I would guess that less than 10 dogs in the entire competition were able to get the entry and stay in and less than 5 went completely clean. Zip and I got away with a weave pole fault and rest was great, I was happy to take my 5 faults on this course. Here is our run:
Later in the afternoon we ran Individual Pentathlon Jumping 1 and I think we started to get our sea legs. Zippy ran like a star and we ended up with a first place. I will hopefully be able to post some of my clean runs in the next couple of weeks. A friend was nice enough to tape all the team runs, just have to catch up with him to get copies.
Saturday we had Gamblers, Individual Pentathlon Jumping and Agility and Team Pentathlon Jumping. I had no real pressure coming into Gamblers since I had botched up Snooker the day before I knew I was out of the running for a Games medal. However I did want to do my best and the Gamble seemed straight forward enough. We had a really nice opening, picking up lots of points. Unfortunately for us Zip picked this class to decide not to hit his DW contacts, twice!! Did I mention up until this point he has never missed a contact since training running? Oh well, I guess if it was going to happen better it happen in this class as opposed to a team class. We ended up not getting the gamble either, I was late getting my verbal out so Zip turned toward me out of the tunnel and missed the next jump in the gamble. Later we ran Scott Chamberlain’s Individual Pentathlon Jumping which was very challenging. It was full of front crosses which are not my best move. I pushed that thought out of my head and told myself I would NOT get dizzy doing all those fronts! It also did not help that due to some confusion on the organizer’s part there were two groups of competitors walking this course at the same time making it impossible to see where you were going and where the next jump was. We had one refusal at a threadle to a 180. I didn’t push hard enough for the second jump in the 180 so Zip ran past it. I was very happy with the rest of it and even put in a blind cross after the double, something I was not sure I would have the guts to do. In the Individual Pentathlon Agility class we had the same 180 set up as in jumpers and guess what, I made the same dumb mistake!! Clearly this is something I need to practice more often. Zip is so quick and can slip by me in a fraction of a second and he will not take a jump unless I make it clear so it wasn’t his fault. I guess that’s what makes him a great Snooker dog! So we earned 5 faults in both Individual classes on Saturday. We were sitting in 5th in the Individual overall by the end of the day. Zip and I also ran in the Team Pentathlon Jumping class and did great. The other team members who ran this class were Dudley and Sweet and Jenn and Blaster, team USA won the class!
Sunday was our final day of competition. We had the final Individual Pentathlon run, it was called the Speedstakes class and Zip and I were also running in the Team Relay finals with Linda, Rosanne and Jenn. The Speedstakes class was super fun to run, it was like a true Steeplechase, very fast and flowing with some good challenges. Zip and I were sitting in 5th by a very close margin so I wanted to give it my all for a shot at a podium spot. Little Zippy ran his heart out, I could not have been prouder. He put in a stellar run and apparently a very dramatic AF performance!! I didn’t get a chance to see it as I was running full out. All I heard was the crowd gasp, so I wasn’t sure if he missed it or not. I decided to put the pedal to the medal as we had only 5 more obstacles to go. After we finished the weaves it was just two more jumps and I heard people yell “RUN!!” so I hoped we were still clean at that point. Zip won the class by .031 seconds!! I get choked up when I think about what a special dog I have in Zip and how truly lucky I am to have such a wonderful friend and companion. After all the totals have been tallied, Zip and I ended up 4th overall in the Individual Pentathlon, just .03 points off the podium!! Was a little disappointed to not make the podium but it makes me that much hungrier for next year!!
Team USA was sitting in 5th place coming into the Relay finals. I ran first for the team. I was worried about the weave entry, probably too worried because I over handled it and while Zip made entrance he popped out after the first pole. He probably thought he was wrong since I spazzed out over getting the entrance. After what seemed like a million years we got through the weaves with just one refusal and the rest of the course went fine, we did knock the 3rd to the last bar as I wrapped Zip too tight. That was our only bar all weekend. Luckily the rest of my team mates went clean on the very challenging course and we won the Relay. This win boosted Team USA up to 3rd overall and a spot on the podium!!
I had such an amazing time in Belgium, hated to see it end. So proud to be a part of Team USA, what an amazing group of dogs and handlers. I feel privileged to be a part of such a group. Everyone on the team did an amazing job. The event doubled in size from last year with a total of 22 countries participating. Team USA came home with the most overall medals, something to be very proud of!! Next year’s venue is in Oviedo, Spain. I hope Zip and I are able to join the team in 2013, fingers crossed!!