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An overview...

The growing popularity of agility worldwide continues unabated and in the UK entries at Kennel Club licensed Championship and Open agility shows continue to increase year on year. This is no doubt helped by the fact that we are lucky that our Kennel Club allow pedigree and non-pedigree dogs to compete in the working disciplines shows which, of course, include agility. Dave Ray, Chair of the KC Agility Liaison Council wrote this introduction to Olympia for the 2011 catalogue (8.00 on the door but free to you via Agilitynet)

2011 has been another very momentous year for British agility. It is the 33rd year that the Kennel Club Agility Stakes Finals have been held at Olympia and this in itself makes it a world class event. In fact, the only event that is comparable is Crufts dog show itself. Certainly when it comes to Christmas, it is the only place where the UK's top handlers want to be.

No dogs are invited to Olympia. Every dog and handler has to earn their right to be in the final. Heats are held throughout the country during the year, culminating in a Semi-final at the City of Birmingham Championship Show in September, meaning that dogs not only have to come in the top five in one of the qualifying classes with maybe up to 450 handlers and dogs in it but then also have to taken one of the top places in the Semi-finals.

The first day for agility at Olympia is Thursday where we have the KC Agility Stakes Final for Medium Dogs, selected from 18 heats held at Kennel Club licensed shows throughout the UK with the top two from each going forward to the Semi-final. The top ten from the Semi-final are competing in the Grand Finals at Olympia. This year as usual we have a variety of breeds competing including Working Cocker Spaniel, some rather small Border Collies and even a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever!

On the Friday, it is the finals for Small dogs 350mm or under at the shoulder. This year we have a variety of breeds competing from Shelties, to crossbreeds and four Poodles. Eleven heats were held at Kennel Club licensed shows and from these, the top three dogs from each heat went forward to the Semi-final at the City of Birmingham Championship Show. Then from this Semi-final, the top ten have been invited to compete at Olympia. What they lack in size, they certainly make up in personality, ability and speed so watch out for the racing ankle biters!

On the Saturday morning at Olympia, it is the Finals of the original Kennel Club Agility Stakes competition - or perhaps we should say Semi-final as we have to start the morning off with an Olympia Semi-final. 

Thousands of dogs enter the 14 nationwide Kennel Club heats for this competition open to top winning Large dogs eligible for Grade 6 & 7 which are the top KC competition grades. The top five competitors from each heat are invited to one of the two highly sought after Semi-finals and the top eighteen from each of these Semi-final are invited to compete in the prestigious event at Olympia.

We have 36 dogs coming forward to Olympia on the Saturday morning in the Main Arena where we have an Olympia Semi-final, the top ten of which qualify for the Grand Finals on the Saturday night with the next ten being invited to compete in another event on the Saturday afternoon. So you can be sure of one thing - you will be seeing the very best of the UKs senior and advanced dogs competing! With the exception of one, all the dogs will be Border Collies or Working Sheepdogs. These really are the athletes of Large Dog Agility so it is sure to be one of the most exciting finals this year.

On the Sunday, we have the Kennel Club Novice Agility Stakes. This is for Novice dogs and not Novice handlers, as I think with most sports we have a grading system with Grades 1 - 7. New dogs handled by experienced handlers start in Grade 3 and this Novice class is open to dogs who, at the time of qualifying, were working in grades 3 5.

Fourteen heats were held at Kennel Club licensed agility shows and is by far the most popular qualification event, with up to 1,000 dogs in each one of these qualifying shows with the top three dogs going forward from each class or part of if numbers dictated a split. These top dogs from the heats or split classes go forward to two Semi-finals, the same as the Large grade 6 7 dogs. These Semi-finals were as usual held at the City of Birmingham Championship Show. Then from these two Semi-finals, the top 18 are invited to compete in the Olympia Semi-final on Sunday morning with the top 10 going forward to compete in the Kennel Club Novice Agility Stakes Finals on the Sunday evening and those placed 11th to 20th invited to compete in a competition during the matinee performance.

So this is another competition where the selection process ensures that only the very best of agility dogs are competing in what Im sure will be an extremely exciting final.

On the Monday of Olympia, it is the turn of the ABC dogs - or I should say the 'Anything But a Collie dogs. As with all the competitions at Olympia, the handlers and dogs have had to qualify via a rigorous process just to compete in the finals at Olympia. Twenty heats were held at Kennel Club licensed shows, the 62 dog Semi-final was held at the City of Birmingham Show in September, and the top 10 dogs have come forward to the final day at Olympia. This is always a great competition with usually many different breeds competing including this year four Beardies and five Australian Kelpies - or the 'Australian Rocket' as some people call them. The Kelpies are certainly aspiring to take the crown from the Collies in speed and agility so this will really be a fast and furious final.

So whichever day you visit  Olympia this year, you are definitely going to see some of the most exciting and fast agility competitions that the agility world has to offer, including handlers who have competed in the Championships at Crufts and represented the United Kingdom at the World and European Agility Championships.

Judging the agility at Olympia is one of the most prestigious once in a lifetime appointments available and hence only the most skilled, experienced and respected judges are invited and this years event is no exception. Our 2011 judge is Ian Mallabar. Ian is a championship agility judge, and judges throughout the UK on a regular basis, he represents the North East of England on the Kennel Club Agility Council and most importantly he is a well respected member of the agility community.

For the competitors, qualifying for the Agility Stakes Finals at Olympia is the best Christmas present they could have - but of course the final accolade would be to take home one of the beautiful pieces of Kennel Club crystal engraved with the words 'Kennel Club Agility Stakes Winner - Olympia 2011.'

Unfortunately, this is not the case throughout the rest of the world where some countries will only allow crossbreeds to compete in very limited classes. Agility in the UK is definitely a sport for all dogs so if you want to ask the experts about agility then do call in to the Kennel Club stand in the shopping area where advice and information about licensed agility shows will be available.

About the author...
Dave Ray joined Rugby DTC with his wife Mary in 1978 and, although not a dedicated dog handler, his business skills were soon put to good use. After election to the Committee, he held various positions including for many years the Club Treasurer and Show <anager.He has now been a RDTC member for 32 years and is currently the Vice President and Show Manager.

Dave is also Chairman and trustee of a Rugby-based charity called Avon Valley Canine Trust.

He took  over running the Olympia Agility events in the early 90s and became the agility organiser for the sponsors Pedigree. He remained in this position until their withdrawal in 2009. He then continued organising this event for the Kennel Club.

Dave was elected as Midlands representative on the KC Agility Liaison Council about 12 years ago and later elected as Chairman of the Agility Council. He is a member of the Activities Sub-Committee, the International Agility Working Party and the Agility Festival Working Party. He is also quite involved with Crufts Dog Show and is renown for the his expert agility, HTM, Flyball and Obedience commentaries.