Posted by: allstaragility | May 27, 2013

The WAO Experience

wao ring

The 2013 World Agility Open was a marathon for all the participants; competitors, judges and workers alike.  Aside from the standard stresses of an international competition, it was a challenge in our stamina and adaptability.  The days started early and we often didn’t get back to the hotel until after 9:30pm.  The weather was not the most cooperative with intermittent showers, cool temps (mid-40’s) and a steady breeze which was determined to make us all pile on as many layers as we could find.  The set-up this year was a bit unfortunate with the competitors having quite a long walk from crating to the both indoor and outdoor rings- such that quite a number of us decided to crate out of the cars (where I am certain the dogs where more comfortable).   To battle being so cold, wet and tired, one had to huddle around that competitive fire that burns deep inside all of us and find the determination to power through.   Not particularly easy for those of us in the US who have gotten spoiled by trials being held in beautiful indoor facilities!

There is always some discussion in comparisons between the different major international competitions.  Having only first-hand experience at the FCI Agility World Championships and the WAO (twice each), those are the only two I can honestly compare.   There is nothing like the AWC; it is truly in it’s own class in terms of prestige, publicity, spectators and the venues in which it is held.   To be a part of that was a fantastic experience I dream of repeating someday.  It is the single most intense competition there is.  To me, the event has a colder, sterile, cut-throat feeling.  In 2006 and 2007  at the AWC, Skye and I only ran team.  That is 2 runs.  So much time, preparation, travel and pressure for 2 runs.  With the weight of the country on your shoulders, it is the worst feeling in the world to have a fault and immediately hear the cheering of another country who just won the Gold because you messed up.  True, I would probably feel differently if we had won that medal, but that feeling is something that stays with you for a long time…

The WAO has a much different vibe.  It is a lot more down-to-earth and relaxed. Perhaps that has to do with me having more experience than I did 6-7 years ago.  I particularly enjoy the format of the different events and that some of the medals are determined by 5 runs versus 2.  It is more intimate; not being nearly as large as the AWC.  While it is growing and gaining momentum, the level of competition is also rising. Greg, Monica and the  rest of the WAO organizers are doing a lot of things right, but still learning how to make it better and are open to advice.  While the AWC is still the pinnacle of our sport, I honestly have had much more enjoyable experiences at the WAO events (despite the weather this year!).

At the World Agility Open, there are 3 different events in which one can earn an individual medal plus the team competition.  The Individual events are the Pentathlon, Biathlon and Games Biathlon.  The Pentathlon includes 2 Agility rounds (what we would call Standard, with contacts), 2 Jumping rounds and the Speedstakes class (similar to steeplechase or T2B where the only contact obstacle is the AF).  The Biathlon is one round of Jumping and one round of Agility.  The Games Biathlon  is Snooker and Gamblers.

The Individual Pentathlon and Biathlon are scored time plus faults; so any mistakes result in time being added (bar, contact, refusal= 5 faults/seconds added, wrong course= 100 faults/seconds, time faults also counted).  While the goal was to run clean, one couldn’t simply coast through a run in the Pentathlon because there were some really fast dogs that got on the podium with course faults who beat out dogs that were clean clear through.  That said, the competition was fairly deep and the times were tight in each round.  I would say the only exception was on Saturday when one of the Pentathlon classes was outside in deteriorating conditions so that those who ran later in the morning faced steady rainfall and a very muddy field. This certainly favored the dogs who were able to run earlier in the morning with handlers who weren’t as worried about staying upright!

In the Games Biathlon, medals were decided on total points earned in both classes, followed by time.  It is somewhat  a shame that the US, Canada and UK teams tended to dominate these classes being  they have more experience planning strategies and running games courses.  I did feel there was an overall improvement from the other countries, especially in their distance abilities in gamblers.

In the Team Pentathlon, there are 2 agility rounds, 2 jumping rounds and a team relay.   Once the course maps were provided, the team coaches had a limited time to submit which dogs were going to run that class.  In each round, 3 dogs from a team would compete, one from each height with one height sitting out.  No height could sit out more than one round.  Scoring was done the same as the Individual events.  The team relay is quite interesting as one dog/handler runs from each height.  There are 2 sides with jumps set at 12″ and 22″ (or rather 300 and 525 cm in height) so the 16″ and 26″ (400 and 650cm) dogs jump a lower height.  Otherwise, it is similar to our USDAA team relays with the baton exchanges.

At the WAO, there is a warm-up arena which has stations consisted of all 3 contact obstacles, weaves and jumps.  It was the  only place to access any obstacles before runs (no jumps by the rings), but it was nice to get the dogs moving across some of the contacts before our runs and being able to do so even had a little influence on how I handled one of my runs.

Unfortunately, once you are down in the warm-up arena adjacent to the ring, there was no way to be able to view any runs while waiting your turn.  There is a queue system to get into the ring and they had 4-5 dogs lined up at various stations with a chaperon who passes along your scribe sheet.  This area is a maze with tall walls.  One station had the contraband box where you place any items you aren’t taking in the ring (toys, treats, water, etc).  Your first view of the arena was as you were on deck for the next run.   This is something I really hope gets changed next year.  I missed so many of my other 650 teammates’ runs as they were ahead of or behind me in the queue and I wasn’t able to watch…

There is a certain fear when going to a country where very few people speak your language; it is quite humbling!   However, some of the best memories are made from attempts to cross the language barrier. The agility people from Spain were excellent hosts and had a lot of fun; particularly one gentleman who was one of the main ring workers.  I never will forget the look on his face when I put Solei’s toy in the contraband box (one of those black, rubber milking inflations) and he picked it up trying to figure out what it was.  He bent over and asked “automobile?”  The only thing I could come up with in Spanish was “leche” (milk) and made cow milking gestures.   I doubt he ever figured out what I meant, but we had a good laugh over it!

Perhaps now would be a good time to start studying Italian?

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