Posted by: allstaragility | May 30, 2014

Best Agility Moment EVER… Team USA!

I have been fortunate the last 15 years to share many wonderful agility moments with friends, students and the amazing teammates we get to run with around the ring.  From cheering on students and seeing their hard work pay off to making it on numerous international teams with Skye and Solei and standing on podiums with the best merlie girlie ever, I have amassed a plethora of happy memories.  I would have to be honest that there hasn’t been just one that has stood out as the pinnacle… until a few weekends ago.

To back-up a little bit, since coming home from the IFCS/ WAO tour, I have been asked a lot about the different experiences.  While this post is not to debate which is the best or most prestigious of the “World” events (FCI Agility World Championships,  IFCS World Agility Championships and the World Agility Open), I would hope it ends some of the unfounded bias that one is far superior to the others.  Unless a person has actually attended or competed in all 3, I would seriously doubt their ability to make such conclusions…

I do think it is interesting how the Team competition is  handled at these events and the type of courses presented at each.  Examples are shown from events over the last year,  click on the pictures to enlarge them.   Each is unique in the approach to deciding the best “team” in the world.

To keep it as brief as possible, at the FCI World Championships, the team events are divided by jump height so there are small, medium and large dog teams that compete only against the other teams their jump height.  4 dogs run in 2 classes (Jumping and Agility) and the best combined score wins, with each team getting to drop one score, I believe, from each run so that only 6 scores count.  When I was on the team with Skye in 2006 and 2007, only 3 dogs ran team and each score counted.  This changed a few years later.  In this respect, the only strategy involved is run clean and fast.   At FCI, courses are usually designed by height, so there can be a pretty big difference between the courses small, medium and large dogs run.


At IFCS, the Team competition is a triathlon event with Jumping, Standard and Team Relay scores counting for the overall placements (9 runs counting 3 in relay).  The thing that is different about this event is that teams are mixed heights (for example, 2 large dogs and one small) and a country can have more than one team (USA had 4 teams this year at IFCS).  No scores are dropped, but dogs/handlers that have not run on a team can be substituted in.  I appreciated how this allows for some strategy by the coaches deciding what combinations of handlers and dogs to use and what substitutions to make.  I wasn’t a fan of was how it put the 4 USA teams competing against each other.  While we all still supported one another, I don’t feel it was in the best interest of a creating a unified team spirit.  You wanted all the USA teams to do well, you just hoped yours did the best… 🙂



Then there is the World Agility Open.  This is a pentathlon with 2 rounds each of Jumping and Agility and the Team relay determining who gets on the podium (16 runs including the 4 in relay).  Every score counts and it is all for Team USA- not multiple US teams or a team in each height.  It is the one team event where every country truly competes against each other for bragging rights.   At the WAO there are 4 jump heights (300, 400, 525 and 650mm are similar to our 12, 16, 22 and 26″ jump heights).  In each round, the coaches select 1 dog from 3 of the 4 heights to run, and each height will sit out one round, except the relay, where a dog from each height runs.

This year at WAO, Team USA had a gold medal to defend.  It was not going to be easy as the competition was so much larger than last year with a rather deep pool of talent.   After 3 solid rounds (9 runs), we were sitting in 4th place in the middle of an 8-country pack not having had any off-courses (100 faults) out of 24 countries competing.   The courses had not been easy by any means, but several of us on Team USA commented how we needed something really challenging to help us separate from the pack…


…then came this course on Saturday afternoon:


If you want to try running the most gut-heaving courses I have seen, then check out some of these designed by Ermanno D’Avino.  I think his goal designing courses is to:

a) make competitors feel incredibly proud of being able to haul butt fast enough to survive his course,

b) make competitors feel like they need to go home and do the P90X and Insanity workouts simultaneously 3 times a day for a whole year before attempting to run again, or

c) make competitors gather that pile of gelatinous goo that was once their soul and dump it into the sea created from the tears of those who attempted to run the course before them!

All joking aside, this was the course Team USA needed to rise to the top, but it was also the course that we *had* to get through in order to do so.   I remember Coach Blake asking me what my thoughts were about running this course.  The 650’s had already sat out a round and I looked at the first 4 obstacles and thought, no problem!  Then I kept looking…  Then I said that I felt Dudley (with Jack) might be able to get around this course better than I could.   Then I found out that Dudley was already going to run it with Sweetie for the 525’s and I didn’t have much of a choice but to suck it up!  It was a “put on your big girl panties and deal with it” moment for sure!

The course didn’t set up any better than it looked.  Surprisingly, none of the judges course build using a baseline and wheel.  They just do it by sight and the accuracy is pretty darn good!  I would say that the only thing that really was different on how this was set up was the angle of the teeter and 16-17 was a bit trickier than it looked on the map.   One of the most challenging aspects of this course was that there were 72 of us trying to walk this course at once and within the 10 minutes we were given.  That upped the stress factor just a skosh…

The class ran small to tall.  At the same time they were running this round, they were setting up and walking Gamblers in the main ring (which I had a chance to medal in, so I had to divide my attention).   It was probably a good thing I didn’t watch too much…  I walked back over in time to see Jenn have a good run with Kaboo and was met by Mary Ellen asking whether or not I wanted to know what all was going wrong.  I said “sure” because I am not one to get too upset by the problems others are having but, in a nutshell, everything was going wrong at almost every possible turn.  An additional factor was that handlers looked completely spent as they were in the corner going from #15-16.  I had to go get Solei before I was able to see Dudley put in a solid run with Sweet.

The weird thing about team is that you want it to go as well as it possibly can, realizing that anybody can make a mistake and that is just how it goes in agility.  You support your teammates no matter what happens.  The truth is, if somebody is going to make a mistake, you just hope it isn’t you!  I can say I have never been more nervous about a run in my life.  I know my teammates were nervous, too.  It is a helpless feeling knowing something so important hinges on how somebody else does. I knew that if I could get Solei through the course it would help put us in serious medal contention going into the relay.  I may or may not have been singing Queen’s “Under Pressure” to myself as I was warming her up.

It wasn’t a pretty run, but on that ugly of a course, I don’t think there was any way to make it pretty!  It was clean and I don’t think there has been any sweeter moment than Solei going over the last jump and hearing the cheers of my teammates!  40 of the 72 running the class had E’s, but Solei and I were one of only 13 to run clean!  You can see the video HERE (Many thanks to George Mariakis for the video!). Team USA won the class and followed it by winning the relay the next day to clench the gold medal (another privilege to run, video HERE).   Without a doubt, it is the proudest moment of my entire agility career.  Above any individual medals I have earned, throwing it down on this hairy of a team course for USA was the best feeling ever!  The icing was letting Solei do her favorite thing at international events… running a few victory laps!


I have to applaud all members of Team USA for being such a unified group, the supporters for cheering louder than anybody else, and Coach Blake and Manager Susan for making the tough strategic decisions and getting us to the start line.  Kudos to those who ran in the team events and made USA golden again:  Mike Padgett and Kona, Andy Mueller and Crackers, Ivette White and Zip, Jenn Crank with Clever and Kaboo, Jean LaValley and Cheer, Mary Ellen Barry and Maizy, Dave Grubel and Boca,  Jeanette Hutchison and Rumble, Dudley Fontaine with Sweet and Jack.   You are all the best!!!








  1. Absolutely awesome! We wanna be like y’all when we grow up! Congrats to both of you and Team USA! Ginny and Ned

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