Sunday, October 20, 2013

Dealing with it all... The AWC 2013 Part 1 - The KUSA Cup

Going into this year's AWC was not an easy feat at all for any of the South African team... some statistics...

Of the 14 dogs/13 handlers on the team:

- We had 4 brand new handlers (with new dogs obviously)... a large dog that had both a team and individual spot, a large dog handler with only an individual spot and a small and medium dog each with only a team spot.  These were handlers that never had the opportunity to try out in the past.

- 2 new team dogs, with repeat handles, one medium and one large, both with individual and team spots.

- 8 repeat dogs and handlers, 2 large, 1 small, 1 medium with team and individual spots, 1 large with an individual spot only, 2 small and 1 medium with team spots only.

The dynamics of a team always contributes towards the entire event experience.  You have a responsibility to your team members to give it your all and try your very best for them.

Before I continue I would like to mention one thing, regardless of whether there was 10 dogs or 400, every handler still had to go out there and do it.  Run the clear round, make the right choices.  Our dogs still had to keep the bars up, touch the contacts.  You still had to beat the competition.  So well done to all the winners!!!

This year presented itself with a very unique set of challenges.

-  With so few countries and dogs attending, it actually added to the pressure in many ways.  Where one could often go anonymous in the masses at previous AWC's with hundreds of other dogs competing (if you were not a 'household name' of course), this was far less likely in 2013.  With only 13 dogs in medium individual, 12 mediums in team , 16 smalls in individual, 19 smalls in team, 23 in large individual and 19 in large team, people were bound to remember every dog that ran.  At one of our team events earlier in the week, one of the organisers jokingly said to a team mate (with regards to the medium team competition) that all they had to do was 'not finish last' and they would be on the podium???  I don't know if this was supposed to be a 'comforting thought' but all it did was disturb me.

-  The statistical probability of ending up with a medal also increased greatly of course... mentally this was one of the hardest things for me.  While it has always been my dream to be on an AWC podium, I wanted it to be a more 'rightful' place and less of a 'default' placing. More than once I had the thought that I would actually prefer NOT winning a medal this year, but rather do it at a representative AWC (yes, I know, what a horrible thought to have), while at the same time thinking that I wanted to run the full on, hardest, most intense, best rounds of Agility I ever have in my life!  Oh the contradiction.  At the end of the day I chose to look at it as just another competition and forget what they were calling it. And please understand the individual placings were all well-deserved brilliant dogs and handlers that deserve their achievements.  This DID however also add much more additional pressure to all the participants I think.

- For our team, we had a decent contingent of supporters for the first time ever.  This made for noisier support (awesome), but also more scrutiny (stressful).  The new team members of course didn't know anything else, so I think this would not have affected them as much as repeat team members.

- The controversy surrounding the competition.  It was hard to avoid all the negativity and drama flying around in cyberspace.  As per my previous post I, myself, had a ton of objections regarding the matter too.  I had to deal with this, I owed my team mates and supporters the best I could give, despite my personal feelings, or those of others all around the world.

There were many other aspects that influenced me mentally and physically, but at the end of the day my goals were:

- To run the utter best rounds I possibly could.
- To appreciate every course I could run with my awesome dogs
- To enjoy every second

Due to the lack of numbers, the organisers arranged for an additional event starting on Friday morning called the KUSA Cup.  This was open to all AWC participants, reserves, white dogs and South African Grade 3 Agility dogs up to 100 dogs (on a first come, first serve basis).  I have to admit that I was rather happy about this turn of events, as it meant that I would have a chance to run Chaos against the international competitors.  I was rather gutted that he wouldn't be able to compete.  He has been on such form coming back from his injury, that it was a rather hard pill to swallow.  I also made the decision to run Volt and if he was faulted in the first round, I would not run him in the second to save him for the AWC.

First off... jumping... this is my own drawing of the course (click on the picture to see a bigger version):

We had an official practice the previous day, but only AWC dogs were allowed on the surface.  The surface wasn't ideal at all, with no cushioning.  Volt had slipped a lot the previous day and adjusted his pace accordingly... he also banged his head into the weave poles rather badly and then proceeded to weave rather slowly, choosing to go around each weave pole instead of touching them.  I had warmed up Chaos before his run, but the warm up area was rather small and I don't think it gave the dogs a true feel of the surface...

Order was large, medium then small.  Chaos was draw number 19 (of 45 dogs).  He landed on his face after number 1, not expecting the slippery surface on a turn, but he recovered well to run a course clear with some time faults (only two dogs ran in the course time I THINK, since these results were never published) finishing 8th in the jumping round.  I have to admit that if the bars weren't so insanely heavy (I estimated at least 3kg-4kg), he might actually have had a knock, but who knows.

Steinermeister was draw 2, which is not ideal for him, as his excitement builds with each dog that runs. Volt landed on his face after jump 1 as well, had several bad slips before jump 8 (luckily no face plants, but you could hear his nails dig in to the surface badly) and then adjusted his pace even more... this left me out of position for my actual plan from 15-19 so it turned into a wide mess... Course clear, with time faults.  He still gave me everything he could and for that, I am very proud!  He also finished 8th in the jumping round (out of 23 dogs I think). Eight seemed to be my haunted position of the weekend... unbeknownst to me at this point, 208 was my catalogue number for the weekend too.

They immediately set up the contact Agility course:

Sorry a rather bad picture I found on the internet...  As you will see from the video, 11 - 12 was quite different and 16-20 was VERY different.

Draws were in reverse order of merit, so both my dogs would be running towards the end of their classes.  Smalls were running first this time around.  Volt started off rather slowly, not extending his stride, putting my timing off by miles, eish, I really need to learn to adapt better on my feet.  Another bad slip before the poles.  I am very happy with his contact performance though, especially the see-saw which I have been working hard on.  His dog walk was on the slow side, but got better as the weekend went along.  He ran a wide slower clear round, to finish 9th in Agility and 5th over-all.  All in all, despite the slipping and pace adjusting, I think this competition was good for our confidence, just getting out there and getting around the courses.

With Chaos this was his 'all or nothing' round of the weekend... These are my favourite kind of rounds.  Having nothing to lose.  We had a ball out there.  He managed to get a 7th in the Agility round, finishing 4th over-all.  Honestly, super proud of the dude and happy with the result, but finishing forth sucks a$$!  That 'almost on the podium' spot...

Starting off with 4/4 course clears did give me a lot of confidence for the competition, while it could have gone the other way.  It DID make me wish even more that Chaos was on the team (since he finished the highest of all SA dogs)... more about the AWC in a next post...

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