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Finnish First

Host to the World Agility Championships 2000

The Fifth Agility World Championships will be held in September 30th - October 1st 2000 in Helsinki, Finland, the most successful country ever to compete in the annual FCI show. This article, written by Kaj Gumpler of Agility Sports Bulletin, started life as a press release. The English translation, with some enrichment, is by Mari Hurskainen of Jyväskylä Agility Team.


The foundations
The first time the Finnish dog fancy got to see agility in action was at the Finnish Winner Show 1986 in Helsinki. This annual show, put on by the Finnish Kennel Club itself, is the biggest and most prestigious one in Finland. The presenters were beginners, too: the rumour has it some of them tried the equipment for the first time on-site!

The Kennel Club invited Peter Lewis to train the first agility judges in fall 1987. Unofficial shows were organised in many cities from early on, but the first official agility show was organised in March 1989 in conjunction with the 100th anniversary festivities of The Finnish Kennel Club.

The new dog sport gathered enthusiasts steadily. By the end of 1991 around 1,000 people had trained their dogs in the art, out of whom 500 were competing. There were 2,000 registered competition starts that year.

The growth of the hobby exploded in 1992. It could have been due to the first Finnish agility book Agility ABC (by Kaj Gumpler and Jarmo J. Husso) and the dawn of regular information from the Kennel Club. Or maybe the time was just ripe for agility! New judges, instructors and competitors were being trained both locally and nationally.

A native Finnish breed Lapponian HerderThe present
At the Millennium shift agility is still the fastest growing dog sport/hobby in Finland. Estimates of the people included circle around 10 000, out of which 4,000 (with dogs from 130 different breeds) make up the 30,000 annual starts in the 300 official competitions. To give you an idea of the scale of this, there are five million people in Finland and a little over half a million dogs. Around 32,000 pure-bred puppies are born annually, and some mixed breed ones.

The 120 clubs that offer training in agility have put together almost 200 obstacle sets. Most clubs offer a wide range of activities (obedience, utility etc), but ca. 20 clubs specialise solely in agility. In the official competitions individuals from 120 different kennel clubs or breed organisations took part. You may have heard of the Northern Dimension Finland has launched in the EU. It is reality in agility, too: the northernmost competitor is from Sodankylä, around 100 km north of the Polar Circle.

Finland goes by the FCI rules that are a bit different than the ones used in Great Britain. Jump heights are lower and the A-frame gets lowered for mini dogs. For Maxi dogs the angle at the top is 90 degrees, for Minis 70 degrees. Crosswalk, wishing well, pause square and cavalletti are not used. The rules are undergoing a change, and the changes that may come as early as 2001 may create a third height division (Midi, dogs that are 35 - 45 cm at the withers), exclude the water jump and lower the A-frame for Midi and Maxi dogs, too.

The eyes of the agility world will be on Finland
This year between 30 September to 1st October Finland will play host to the Agility World Championships 2000. Sixteen years after the very first agility presentation in Finland the Champion candidates most definitely will have reached a skill level light years above those first presenters!

Anna-Leena Rosenholm from Friskies Finland has collected information on the distribution of European and World Championships. Finland leads the statistics! The FCI has given Finns eight golden, six silver and eight bronze medals. France has gotten eight gold medals, too, but has not placed second or third as often. So, dear agility friends from all over the world - 28 countries in all - you are welcome to try and beat our records!


About the author...
Mari Hurskainen
lives in Jyväskylä, Central Finland. She has been doing agility for about two years with her first dog, a faster-than-lightning three  year old Irish Terrier bitch Noora.

Mari says her dog has learned agility much faster (and better) than she has! They have just started competing and so far have earned one qualifying leg of the three needed to move on to the class II.

This year she is helping out at her club by training the next level up from Beginners class plus organising official and unofficial trials.

FCI photo of two medallist from the World Championships in Dortmund 1999: Agility Sports Bulletin. Gold medal winner Mika Mättö with Welsh Terrier Dirty Harry and Bronze medal winner Janne Karstunen with Border Terrier Anniedear.
Photo of Lapponian Herder, a native Finnish breed, doing the weaves  by Elisa Mattila. The dog Juoksa Geeni, owned by Salme Mujunen, competes in the highest agility class, III. She is also a Finnish conformation & Obedience Champion.