Sunday, November 12, 2006

Belated Nationals Post

It was hard going back to work this week. I was tired, cranky and in need of some down time. Luckily for once in my life I didn't come back to a huge pile of work, emails, etc. Or maybe not so luckily. The economy is not looking so great for the construction industry.

Day 3 of Nationals was the biggest deal for me, we had our Team Standard, Team Jumpers and the highly anticipated Performance Grand Prix Semifinals. I was thrilled to have both dogs qualified for the GP Semi's, that in itself was a huge accomplishment for us. I had to walk the GP course first at around 7 am and didn't run it until around 3:40 pm, the last run of the day for us. Standard was the first run of the day for us and it went o.k. Cody took an off course tunnel but had an otherwise lovely run on a very technical course. Lola had 2 refusals and a knocked bar, the result of ring stress. Poor girl wasn't coping too well with the atmosphere and/or maybe I was more nervous than I thought I was.

Jumpers was the hardest for me to remember, all those jumps start to blend together with no other equipment out there to use for markers. Cody missed a weave entry but had an otherwise beautiful run until I sent him right off course near the end (DOH!!!). Lo uncharacteristically popped out of the poles, even after redoing them 3 times or so. Otherwise she was running o.k.

Unfortunately we had to run the Grand Prix at the very heat of the day with glare from the sun hitting the ring right at the weave poles. And it was only an hour or so after our Jumpers run so I didn't have time to take the dogs back to the RV to cool down. My one mistake was bringing only one crate. I never anticipated I would have runs so close together and that the RV would be so far from the rings. So I put Lo up in the crate and had to find a shady spot to hang out with Cody until the GP. By day 3 they finally put some hoses out for the dogs but no baby pools which was fine for Cody who loves to play in the hose but no good for Lola who's terrified of it. I tried cooling her down by scooping water out of the dock diving tank but it wasn't very effective. Bottom line, she was stressing as soon as I released her from the start line, turned around sniffing again then ran past the first jump putting up right out of the running. Cody had a lovely run except for the weaves as already mentioned. I can't help but wonder if the sun right in his eyes had something to do with the weavepole problems. Hard to say since he has issues with them anyway.

Initially I was disappointed about not making it into the finals, esp. since the semifinal course was a really nice, flowing, doable course for us. However, it turned out to be a mixed blessing since the finals most likely would have been a nightmare for both dogs. They were held at night under lights with the loudspeaker blaring and the bleachers packed with loud, cheering spectators. It's hard to say how the dogs would have reacted but I'm guessing it wouldn't have been good. I'm not sure I would have liked it either, being in the spotlight in front of all those people, it's not really my thing. I had a blast watching and cheering from the stands, to be honest. Several Coloradoans had made it to the finals and I got a kick out of watching them. Only one dog, a Golden Retriever, ran clean in my jump height and it looked like a tricky course. In the 16" height class the winner won by .01 of a second, very exciting.

We had only Gamblers to run on Day 4 and it went very well for both dogs. This wasn't a traditional Gamblers class with a distance challenge. There was no line for the Gamble. Instead you collected points like normal in the opening (25 seconds) but the Gamble was 2 sets of 6 weave poles parallel to each other with a perpendicular jump in between. You had to work your way through it in a figure 8 as many times as you could. For each obstacle the point value went up so first set of weaves was one point, then the jump was 2 points, next set of weaves was 3, etc. The gamble part was that you had to go over the finish jump before a set amount of time (I think 14 seconds) or you lost all your gamble points. You could start the gamble at any point in the opening so the smart thing was to time your opening so you could head to the gamble just before or while the horn was sounding so you could rack up the most amount of points and not go over time. I timed this perfectly with Lola but mishandled the 2nd set of weaves and headed to the closing jump with only 3 gamble points. I misunderstood the rules and thought you only got one point for each gamble obstacle, otherwise I probably would have risked going back for another try at the weaves. We finished with 3 seconds to spare so we might have gotten it. We came in 13/44 and if I'd gotten the extra 3 points we would have been 10th so I guess it wasn't a huge deal. Cody ended up 21/44 and again I should have risked trying for the 3rd gamble obstacle which was a jump. We had almost 2 seconds to spare so might have gotten it.

Best thing about the runs though was that both dogs were happy and running really well, esp. Lola. I spent some time with her beforehand playing ball with her to relax her a bit. I think a bit part of her motivational issues was that I couldn't really use the ball for a reward since it was so crowded in the exercise area and so hot. Once I started to trust her in the exercise area and let her play before and after her runs her attitude improved.

Our runs were in the late morning so I had the rest of the day to check out the other events. Herding, lure coursing, flyball, dock diving and frisbee-it was too much to take in but I enjoyed it all nonetheless, esp. the frisbee. Steeplechase Finals ran at night and that was my favorite event of all the finals. Those dogs were flying with the crowd cheering them on. It was so much more fun than even the Grand Prix finals which ran during the heat of the day on Sunday.

Sunday was a bust. Power and Speed was our only run and unfortunately it didn't last past the first obstacle for both dogs. You had to make it clean through the Power part of the course in order to go on to the Speed portion which was a nice, fast jumpers course. I started off with the A-frame and Lola missed her contact (the only missed contact called for all of Nationals) so we were immediately whistled off. Cody got his contact but took too wide of a turn and went over an off course jump, TWEET, we were out of there. How demotivating, esp. for the final day. I'll never enter that again.

The Championship Grand Prix finals were held in the afternoon. I was debating whether we should stay for them or hit the road. People were telling me they typically last until 5:00 pm and we were packed up and ready to go by around 12:30. In the end I decided to stay-how often would I have the opportunity to see something like this in person? There were some Colorado folks in the finals too so it would be fun to stay and cheer for them. Jill, my team partner for Lola's Team (Lo's Not the Moss of Me) was in the Veteran's GP Finals with her BC Fey (her BC Moss was Lola's team partner) so it would be fun to see her too.

The finals were o.k. and I'm glad I stayed because I'm really enjoying watching the video I shot after the fact but I can't say I would stay again if I ever return to Nationals. It was the heat of the day, I was hot, tired and burnt out. There wasn't enough seating in the bleachers so we had to sit on the floor right at the railing and I didn't have the best view though I was right at ringside. They were blaring appallingly bad music in between runs and the whole thing seemed like such a circus.

The worst part though was that the judge was being so lenient with the teeter calls, esp. for Rhonda Carter who ended up winning the 22" class. You can see photos of the obvious fly off here: Flyoffs

You can also see video of the flyoffs here: Flyoff video

I realize that the judge is under tremendous pressure and that it's hard to make those split second decisions but Rhonda's teeter wasn't even close, in fact it looked outright dangerous and very bad to the spectators. I'm willing to acknowledge that from the judge's viewpoint maybe it wasn't so obvious but I don't know, I left the finals feeling icky about it, like the top pro handlers are getting special treatment. I'm not saying that's necessarily the reality, but that's the very obvious feeling I was left with afterwards. Even Jonny thought it seemed wrong. On the one hand we all have calls that are either gimmes (I'm pretty sure I had one in Cody's GP Quarterfinal run) or take aways that shouldn't have been but that teeter performance was so over the top and this was the finals.

The other dark side of this was the reaming that the agility vision guy got for posting these photos and videos and bringing up the suggestion that maybe it's time for instant replay in agility. I was thankful he posted those videos/photos to confirm what I was sure I had seen and also that he brought up a very good issue but some people got so bent out of shape about it and I don't see why. He never said the handlers should have their awards stripped or that they didn't deserve to win (the judge is always a factor in agility and though I don't agree with her calls I do feel those that won did win). I can't understand why some in the agilty world get so defensive about everything, sheesh.

Overall I had a great time and I'd like to go next year if we can qualify (they're having it in Scottsdale again). Things I'd do differently:

1. Bring my bike! The RV was between 1/4 to 1/2 mile from the rings each way. It doesn't sound like a lot but all that walking back and forth adds up. I borrowed Jonny's bike when I could but sometimes he was off riding.

2. Sign up for crating space and bring 2 crates. I was warned about the bad crating situation (big tent with lots of dog barking & close together) from previous years but this year they had rows of separate tents and they were very cool, relaxing & quiet. Even the closest RV spaces are too far from the rings if you're running 2 dogs in the same height class.

3. Bring a collapsible pool for Lola and maybe my own hose in case they forget to hook them up again.

4. Leave Sunday morning, forget about Power & Speed and watching the GP finals.

5. Bring less clothes-I had way too many warm clothes and all the extra gear was a nuisance.

6. Buy extra camera batteries and tape for the camcorder. I had to download stuff off the camcorder because I ran out of tape and that was a pain to do during Nationals. Also, the camera battery kept running out.

Otherwise things went very smoothly. The RV was a great idea and I'd do that again. Traffic in Scottsdale was awful, esp. the area we were in, and the drivers were some of the most obnoxious, dangerous, horrible drivers I've ever seen in my life (and I'm a native Chicagoan). I'm glad I didn't have to haul back and forth to a hotel during rush hour.

USDAA Nationals is definitely something to experience. Extremely well run event with plenty of stuff going on at all times. I was really impressed with a lot of the runs I saw from regular, non-professional people who I'd never heard of. It seemed like everywhere you looked there was some amazing run going on. At times I felt like USDAA was money grubbing-they charged a whopping $10 for people to get in on Friday-Sunday on top of parking fees ($5? $10?). They charged parking fees for the competitors too which I thought was awful. Our entry fees were outrageous, we shouldn't have had to pay for parking on top of it (didn't effect me since I was in the RV but still). I heard the food vendors had awful food for huge amounts of money (I didn't buy any). The goodie bag had nice stuff but was pretty sparce (a hat, t-shirt and a frisbee), esp. compared to NADAC Champs. I had 2 dogs, paid 2 full entry fees (over $300) but got only one bag and one t-shirt. Same for the GP Semifinals, I only got one shirt even though I had 2 dogs. And the poor Speedjumping finalists didn't get ANY shirts. They went to Walmart at the last minute and bought their own. Shame on USDAA for that! The ribbons were pretty chintzy for a National event and there were no placement ribbons for the GP Quarterfinals (maybe semi's too, I'm not sure). Sure, it's only ribbons but still, this is Nationals for crying out loud. How much more money would it have cost them for some big fancy rosettes? I can't help but wonder how much $$$ USDAA pulled in from this event, esp. when you consider the huge volunteer force they had out there.

This is all minor whining though, overall I had a great time and am very thankful to all who made it possible. My only serious, big time gripe is about some of the judges whistling people out of the ring. That sucked big time. I'm very grateful to the judges who let me finish my runs even after I'd E'd. Otherwise the event was wonderful and I'd urge anyone to try to experience at least once.

I'll leave you with some video from the Steepelchase Finals. If anyone wants the .mpg file to view in a bigger format I'll be happy to email them. I also have footage from the GP Finals, I'll be posting that later and I also have a .mpg file. You can email me at One other thing about the Steeplechase footage, you can fast forward through the lengthy walk through part at the beginning by moving the little 'button' forward on the player where the elapsed time is listed. I thought footage of the walk through would be interesting to the non-agility people and I had edited it down to a few seconds but I couldn't upload the edited version somehow.

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