International success for Team GB
The decision to compete at the 2006 IFCS World Cup was actually made before Greg and Laura Derrett launched UK Agility in early May 2004. So as the team drove down to Dover in a mini bus full of handlers and grooms followed by two vans full of dogs, there had not only been a lot of anticipation, but also a little bit of nervousness. The qualification process had run well and certainly the dogs and handlers on the team had been some of the most consistent at UKA shows, but what would happen when they met the rest of the world? Greg and Tace Allen combine to report.
Tace: It was a surprise that the UK Agility team made it to Dover at all, let alone Holland. Firstly, the minibus – enough said. Secondly was Pete’s driving of the minibus, best described as a white-knuckle ride topped off with a Garfield pose of the whole team on the front windscreen when he hit the brakes! Thirdly, Stuarts’s instructions to meet half of the team at a service station just off the M25 turned out to be a pub and a football club out in the middle of nowhere. Special thanks to Abbey Rangers FC for letting myself Laura and Angela break into their toilets.
Each vehicle was given a walkie-talkie and calling name. The Minibus aka 'Eyeball Eyeball' set a blistering pace with 'Rubber Duckie' (Greg and Laura) and 'Roger Roger' (Jane and Mark) in hot pursuit. On arrival at Dover (in record time), we had one last minor problem before leaving British soil. The minibus had been booked to carry nine passengers onto the ferry, so why had we handed in ten passports? Luckily we managed to pimp Shaun out to another vehicle to help balance the numbers.
We arrived in Calais and set off for Holland with the aid of Stuarts’ Tom Tom. All was going well until we hit congestion due to an accident, Pete took matters into his own hands and decided that re-routing the tom tom and driving down the hard shoulder would be a lot quicker! Shaun and I feel that at this point we have to apologise to the rest of the minibus passengers for distracting Pete with FHMs 100 sexiest women magazine and nearly crashing into the back of an oil tanker. We did eventually arrive at the hotel in one piece.
Greg: The journey to Holland went fairly smooth until the ten mile traffic jam, but the decision to bring Pete Van Dongen was already well worth it due to his local knowledge of the Dutch road network. We arrived at the hotel via a short cut in the late afternoon. The hotel had a superb restaurant and was only 2K from the venue.
Tace: It is said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so we started off the day 'Pete Van Dongen style' with Dutch breakfast delicacies like Hundreds and Thousands on bread, chocolate sprinkles and ginger cake spread with butter. Yum! On arrival at the venue, team management were already in trouble. It may have something to do with our Dutch minibus driver doing donuts and handbrake turns in the car park!
After decorating the team tent with Union Jack flags, the team proceeded with vet checks and measuring. All dogs went through with no problems, so we set up for a team training session, which was a great opportunity to get the dogs used to the equipment and to practice some simple distance work without destroying anybody’s confidence. We discovered the weaves were set at smaller spacings, which meant the larger dogs had to work much harder. All dogs and handlers stepped up to the challenge. Even in 26ºC heat we were confident for the games to commence.
The day finished back at the hotel with me massaging and checking over the handlers and dogs. This was so that Pete and I could keep an eye on any developing injuries before they became a problem. We all met for the IFCS Welcome Dinner that was being held in our hotel – a great night had by all despite not having a table, hence why the Brits took up residence at the bar, setting an excellent example to the rest of the world of athletes in their prime!
Greg: The following day the Team had the morning off whilst the team management (Laura, Shaun, Pete, Tace and Greg ) scouted out the venue. We were a bit anxious about what the venue would be like. We were pleasantly surprised as there were two well groomed grass areas with a large grandstand for spectators and a fenced off area for the competitors with each team having their own designated marquee. In addition, there was a café selling homemade hot and cold food and a huge beer tent!
In the afternoon that day, the team had their vet check and training sessions. We had ½ hour training in each competition ring where our team came away feeling confident, even though we could see some nerves beginning to creep in. The team then had the rest of the day to themselves with the evening finishing with a welcome dinner back at the hotel.
Tace: The Opening Ceremony went well, the UK team being led by Greg carrying his flagpole with pride. We had a team urine exchange, I mean 'handshake' with the other competitors where we tried to learn 'good luck' in seven different languages.
Over the three days of competition the championships consist of several different events:-
With three days of competition and seven titles in four different height categories, there was a lot to play for!
Power & Speed was the first run of the tournament. This run didn’t carry a title but was a great chance for both dog and handler to adjust to equipment and atmosphere.
The Agility run was next and carried with it a potential of two titles. It was a hard run to decide whether you go flat out for the Individual title or play it safe to contribute it towards the All Around title.
Biathlon – Jumping round finished the day with day. No individual medals as this round was combined with an Agility run held the following day. This run was all about consistency.
Not a bad start to the World Champs - one silver medal, two third places and four dogs still in contention for the All Around and Biathlon titles. Once back at the hotel we had a minor setback with Storm who became quite stiff after the days events. Pete and I set to work; only time would tell if he would be able to run the following day.
The Team had a lovely meal together and after propping up the bar for the second night we all headed to bed before midnight! Please can somebody remind me never to have a lift race when Mark Powell is around. Mark, I know you pressed the button to let Shaun win!
Greg: The day began with the Opening Ceremony which, we were all pleased, was very short and sweet. The event was set up in such a way as to run efficiently. Whilst one ring was running, the other was being built.
The first event which was a warm up class of Power and Speed. Angela with Pi and Stuart with Storm were placed third in their jump heights.
Agility All Around was the next round. This run was to be combined with the other three All Around Classes to produce the All Around World Champ. In addition, this run was for the Individual Agility World Champ. Several clears and some with faults, but Stuart had a great run with Storm, bringing home our first medal which was silver.
Elimination meant you were out of the All Around, but since five faults = five seconds, ten faults still kept you within distance.
The next and final run of the day was the Jumping Biathlon. Again, the scoring was five faults = five seconds. This run did not have an individual medal but was combined with the Agility Biathlon for a combined result for a medal. Again Stuart and Storm did a very nice run putting him in great contention for the medal. Dawn and Chelsea also ran well leaving them in a good position for the next day.
At the end of the day it was back to the hotel for a team meeting and evening meal. Tace and Pete were needed to work their magic on a couple of the dogs and handlers with some minor strains.
Tace: Today was going to be a toughie, not just for the team and their 4 runs, but also for myself, and Pete having to work to keep Storm and Stuart sound. The day consisted of the Biathlon Agility run, Gamblers, Snooker and Jumping runs all contributing to the All Around title. By the end of the day there would be 20 agility titles decided, so a lot was at stake.
Gamblers was the first run, and with a send away gamble which doubled your points, the whole competition could be thrown wide open. No pressure then!
Biathlon – Agility. With only a couple of dogs in contention for this award, it was decided to withdraw Dreamer and save him for the individuals. Tassle and Wispa were to use this round as a training round, with the view of saving them for the all around title.
Snooker – Again individual titles and the All Around title in the back of everybody’s head, made the decisions tough. Lu and Tassle and Stuart and Storm both decided to play safe and dropped a point from the maximum points obtainable to stay in contention, which they did with great effect. Tracy and Tia went for a lower point score and put in another good run but again Tia still not coping well with the heat. Angela and Pi, Jane and Keeta, Dawn and Chelsea and with Dreamer, all went for maximum points, ran perfectly and with the competition being all about how fast you can get maximum points, the competition was very close. Jane and Keeta achieved another gold! Angela and Pi another Bronze!
Jumping – The all important and deciding All Around title run!
End of day two and a chance to total up all the points meant that Stuart and Storm were All Around World Champions for the 26” class. What a brilliant result. Wispa had crept into Bronze medal position for the All Around 22”.
Spirits were high as we rolled into the bar that night. The Canadians were feeling a sense of rivalry and told Stuart he was 'going down tomorrow.' I think I saw a flicker of excitement cross his face! We were still in bed before midnight!
Greg: This was the day several of the competitors had been dreading because of the Gamblers and Snooker classes. We brought Shaun especially to help with the games strategies so when the Gamblers was ready for walking, the handlers, Shaun, Laura and I all put our heads together to come up with a course. The results were outstanding with five out of eight dogs winning individual medals.
Two world champions!
Next up was the Agility Biathlon. Our big hope going into this run was Stuart and Storm, but although they were clear, a few wide turns put him in fourth place just missing out on the podium. This was also the same for Dawn who also ended up fourth. Because of mistakes in the jumping section of the biathlon, this allowed a couple of our handlers to use the agility as a training round.
We then went back to the games classes and this time was the Snooker class. Our first tactical decisions had to be made. For those handlers that were out of the running for the All Around event, we worked on a course to bring them the Individual Gold medal in Snooker. For those in contention for the All Around, we came up with a more conservative course that guaranteed their position in the All Around. Again, we had some fantastic results.
Going into the fourth round, the Jumping class for the All Around Event, we still had four of the eight dogs in contention for a medal. With the last run of the day, tactics were discussed on whether the handler was going for the Individual Jumping gold medal or the All Around. Lu and Tassel’s results in the first three rounds had given her a 2.5 second cushion but unfortunately an early refusal cost her and she ended up fourth overall. Angela with Pi needed to have a fantastic round to bring home a bronze in the All Around and, although she did get a Bronze in the Individual Jumping, she ended up fifth overall.
It was left to Stuart and Storm to bring in the medals. Storm was leading going into the final round but only by ½ second. A cracking run by Stuart and Storm, when the pressure was really on, resulted in silver in the Individual Jumping this also resulted in the Gold All Around. Jane and Keeta also did a phenomenal run winning the Gold in the Individual Jumping, taking their tally to three Gold medals in one day!
The surprise of the weekend was Stuart and Wispa. At 12 years old, I think we all felt that a medal might be beyond reach, but four great runs from Stuart brought the bronze medal by .3 of a second. Dawn, who was not having the most successful weekend in her eyes, finished the day with a great run from Chelsea resulting in the Bronze Individual Jumping.
That brought to a close the Individual competition with thankfully all our handlers achieving success. Three held the title of World Champion and five out of six had won Individual Medals. The sixth handler was Tracy with Tia in the 12” division. Although there were no medals for Tracy, her ambition was top 10 in the All Around which she achieved by placing 9th overall. Out of seven rounds, they had no faults and by anyone’s standards that is a definite achievement at a World Cup.
We’d also like to recognize both Stuart and Storm and Jane and Keeta. They have both been two of British agility’s successful partnerships over the past 4-5 years and when at last given their opportunity to compete at an international level with their WSDs, they both stood up and brought home the Gold medals, beating not only other WSDs, but also the BCs. I know this brought great satisfaction to both handlers.
Tace: The final day had arrived and two teams of three dogs had to be picked, so it was decided to drop Tia and Wispa from the Triathlon team events. Team 1 (UK1) consisted of Keeta, Storm and Dreamer, Team 2 (UK2) were Pi, Tassle and Chelsea.
Triathlon - The Agility and Jumping rounds showed how pressure affects everybody, resulting in uncharacteristic faults from all countries. Pi came out of the jumping round on three legs and it was feared we would have to pull her out and put in Wispa as reserve. I set to work by using massage, stretching and icing techniques, which got Pi back onto four legs again and resulted in her being able to run in the relay.
Going into the team relay we were lying in fifth and seventh, with the American and Russian teams ahead of us. Both our teams were relying on mistakes from others so we had to put the pressure on by going out with an all or nothing attitude. UK2 unfortunately picked up an elimination which dropped us down the rankings, so it was up to UK1 who stepped up to the challenge producing the best combined and fastest run of the day, being three seconds faster than any other team. However, it wasn’t enough to pull back from some earlier faults and so we ended up fourth overall.
Drinking and bar games started early for us and yet again we were the last team in the Hotel bar apart from two Canadians who wished they were on our team (I am pleased to say I beat them both at Beer Mat Twister and Pick up the Penny). I am proud to say that the team bonded so well together and even with the individual pressure of being at the World Champs the atmosphere was so relaxed and supportive which I think reflects on our overall results. Our return journey was rather quiet with a couple of sore heads being nursed. The minibus only just made it back to Greg’s with the clutch hanging on by a wire!
To sum up, the results for the first IFCS World Championships that we have attended were outstanding and a real bench mark for 2008. More importantly, we made a real impression on the competition itself and next time Britain will be one to watch. Roll on the Europeans 2007!
Greg: Today was team day and we had to pick two teams of three from the eight dogs available. You had to have one team with two big dogs and a small dog and the other team with two little dogs and a big dog. The team management had sat down and discussed this and luckily all were in agreement.
The two teams were to be:-
The first run was agility and a couple of errors by both teams put us just out of the medals. UK1 pulled some ground back in the jumping and were now sitting in fifth. UK2 were just behind UK1, and it was felt that the relay was to be run all balls out. UK2 unfortunately pushed a bit too hard and were to collect more faults. UK1 though put in a fabulous run gaining 13 points on the leading team. Enough to move them up but sadly only in to fourth. The USA1 team took the gold although the pressure put on them by the Brits certainly showed!
Greg: Monday was the day we returned. As we headed for England the beautiful sunshine we had enjoyed for four days began to disappear and as we docked at Dover we were back in the pouring rain.
What a trip though - 13 medals, a great team spirit and all dogs back in the UK with no passport problems! A huge thank you to the team for making this such a great event and an even bigger thank you to Pete, Tace and Shaun for all the help they gave to Laura and me.
The next world cup will be in two years with the inside word that Japan maybe the venue. There was also talk of a European Championship in the off years. Fingers crossed that, when we go back, the medal haul will continue!
Eyeball Eyeball over and out, roger roger, rubber duckie!
Photos: Mark Powell & Peter van Dongen