Written by Dave Ray
To say that Olympia is a unique event would be an understatement. It is five days of some of the best dog agility in the world! Who would have thought back in 1979 when the first dog jumping fun event was held at Olympia that this would progress into the event it is today.
So it is fairly easy to work out that this was our twenty-sixth anniversary of agility at Olympia. Although this is perhaps not quite true because, as I said, in the early days it was a jumping only event albeit definitely a bit of fun for the audience although the organisers at the time did try to make it fairly competitive. Of course, it wasn’t long before the full agility set of equipment was introduced and over the years it became more and more serious. And, as we all know, definitely the quarter and final to be in during that magical week before Christmas. Every place at Olympia is hard fought for, through the heats and the semi-finals at the Kennel Club International Agility Festival and, in the case of the Novice and Large finals, of course, an Olympia semi-final on the relevant days of Olympia.
Our judge last year was Tom Quinn who had joined us from North of the Border. As Olympia is such a challenging event in many ways, Tom come to spend a day with us the previous year, as do all judges. When judges are used to having time to build their courses, they are then in a situation where, from the moment they walk into the arena, we have up to eighteen minutes to build the course, walk it, run ten dogs, clear it and present the awards – all without compromising the standards that are expected. Does it work? Yes it does! With the help of a superb ring party.
Every performance at Olympia was sold out as an audience of over 10,000 in each performance ensures that the final few obstacles, especially for a fast dog, are accompanied by a crescendo of audience participation. Yes, it gets a bit noisy and not by accident do most judges try to make the last two or three obstacles fairly straightforward because the chances of the dog actually hearing the handler can be a little diminished!
On each of the five days, all the handlers have an event to go in, to allow them to acclimatise themselves and their dogs to the arena before the all-important grand final. Last year, Thursday was to be ABC day and the afternoon event was ABC Speed Jumping. I’m sure that as the first dog handler to run in any event at last year’s finals, Lindsay Davies must have been fairly nervous. Chris Kawecki with his Kelpie ran sixth and went clear in 28.78 seconds and would ultimately be the winner of the first Jumping competition.
Thursday evening and it was the ABC Agility Stakes Grand Final. With ten starters we were destined to only have five clear rounds. Natalie Webb with her Malinois being the first clear round we saw, she was running third and she would ultimately take third place with a clear in 43.8 seconds. Running seventh was Sherie Vicary-Carter with her cross, who turned an excellent time of 38.68 seconds and would take second place. But running sixth, Charlotte Harding took a whole second off that time with her Malinois to take the coveted first prize.
Friday 18th December was Small dog day, starting with the matinee performance which was a Jumping Grand Prix. Olympia regular Bernadette Bay was first on the start line with one of her very clever Shelties, but alas on this occasion the first to go didn’t mean first in the results. That honour was bestowed on Sam Lane running second with her Cocker Spaniel – clear in 30.42 seconds.
First to go in the final was Stacey Irwin-Burns with her little cross who went clear in 36.27 seconds to go into the lead and stay there! And, try as they might, Marc Wingate-Wynne and Bernadette Bay could not catch them so went second and third respectively.
Saturday was Large Grade 6 and 7 day and as always a very tense semi-final. Thirty-six handlers had qualified at the Agility Festival, plus we had the previous year’s winner competing as well. Hence there were thirty-seven starters with only ten going through to the Grand Final in the evening. Whilst those placed eleventh to twentieth were invited to a Jumping Grand Prix during the afternoon. The good news for the handlers, is that for the two semi-finals there is no pressure on time as we have one hour allocated to us. So there is time to build the course, the handlers have at least ten minutes to walk it and this still leaves us plenty of time to run the semi-final without rushing anyone. But you can imagine the pressure these handlers are under, especially for the first handler running. On this occasion it was Graham Burgess - who would ultimately make it just into the afternoon event by taking twentieth place!
Certainly the course wasn’t just a quick run around as we had thirteen clear rounds and eleven with five faults. So ideally, as this competition progressed, the handlers needed to go for the fast clear and trying to achieve that some time elusive, aim of getting the balance, of speed and accuracy right, but failing that, they needed a very fast five faults. The handler who put in the fastest round for the morning semi-final and walking away with the winner’s trophy was Sam Chapman with the Pace Meister, just beating Bonny Quick on 34.53 seconds into second place and Alan Short into third place on 34.66 seconds. Yes, you could say it was fast!
This was quite sad for me, as I had been informed that the Kennel Club had decided this was to be the last of the big semi-finals at Olympia. In future, only twenty dogs were to go forward to Olympia in the Large and Novice categories while the semi-final would be to decide who went in the afternoon or evening final.
In the afternoon we had our second ten in the Senior Jumping Grand Prix. Laura Chudleigh showed everyone a clean pair of heel with her Agility Champion Border Collie, Paws Dark Prince to take the winning place with a clear in 27.94 seconds.
Saturday night was the big event with the Large Dog Senior Grade 6 and 7 Grand Final. The running order was in the reverse places for the semi-final and the pressure was on with a packed house, big build-up by the commentator and a lot of audience participation as we witnessed some of the most stunning agility ever to be seen with only three clear rounds.
But the ultimate winner with probably one of the best displays of top class agility I have ever seen – clear in 32.78 seconds over a big course – was the prolific Olympia agility winner Greg Derrett with Agility Champion Devongem Rehab Sproglett. Very close behind in 33.06 seconds was Sarah Young with Comebyanaway Ever Reddy and Jenny Kimber in third place with exactly 34 seconds. It is also worth mentioning Alan Short who actually had the fastest round but unfortunately picked up five faults.
After we finish in the arena on each evening we have a private Champagne Reception for all the competitors and their friends and, of course, quite a few agility folks who just happen to be passing join us as well. The room was packed full so it was a great occasion where we can say a few words to everyone. There is also a lovely Christmas tree for photographs. Last year we had more people in the room than we have ever had before. Also we were honoured to have with us the Chairman of the Kennel Club who said a few words, so it was a great end to a great day.
The following day being Sunday it was Novice dogs and we had to be careful each day to ensure that handlers who had never been to Olympia before had a full briefing, not only the technical one from the judge but also the domestic one from me. And Sunday being Novice day we had quite a few handlers who had not been to Olympia before.
Drawing the short straw and being in first place was Lindsey Lightowler but she would be destined not to make it through to the final but would get a coveted spot in the afternoon event with a clear round in 38 seconds. Running second was Martin Reid with Border Paws Secret Surprise but he would be destined to turn second into first when he walked away with the winner’s trophy after a clear round in 34.06 seconds with Sue Midgley taking second place over 1.5 seconds behind Martin with her very fast Border Collie Lyrichaline High and Mighty. In the morning we were to have sixteen clear rounds and seven handlers with just five faults, so it was some of the fast five faulters who went through to the afternoon event.
During the afternoon performance we had the Novice Jumping Grand Prix for the handlers placed eleventh to twentieth in the morning semi-final. For all the afternoon Jumping events we had seconds to add for the marking, standard Kennel Club marking but the handlers do enjoy it as they can really go for it on that superb surface that they have at Olympia. Christine Brown was to be the winner with Mischief’s Splash of Gold with a Grand Prix speed of just 33.93 seconds which could have been beaten by Mark Watson who came second as his round was actually 31.17 seconds but with five faults this put him on 36.17 seconds but it had been a great run by Christine.
Sunday evening was the Olympia Novice Grand Final and as usual lots of pressure on the handlers. However we were to have only four clear rounds and one with five faults plus unfortunately five eliminations – yes, the pressure tells. Once more we had some stunning rounds as the competition progressed. The morning winner, Martin Reid, was running last and once more we witnessed an outstanding display of world class dog agility when he took the lead nearly 2 seconds ahead of the second placed handler who was Helen Anderson with Delanor Dark Agent in 36.90 seconds. And not far before her in third place was Joanne Richards with Castomya First Knight in 37.10 seconds and the final clear round was Belle Howlett with Leia’s Queen of Naboo with a clear in 37.72 seconds. So another great final and once more followed by a champagne celebration and photographs!
For the final day at Olympia on the Monday it was time for Medium dogs to be centre stage. Ten handlers qualified through from the semi-finals and they would all have a run in the Medium Jumping Grand Prix during the afternoon then in the final during the evening. Tracey Flower running second took the lead with a clear round in 37.1 seconds and she retained that lead and, as the running order progressed, nobody seemed able to catch her. She must have been slightly apprehensive when Natasha Wise arrived on the start line running eighth but although she had a quicker time on the course, she had five seconds to add so Natasha would ultimately take second place with Tracy Flower and Madame Ballerina taking home the winner’s engraved crystal trophy.
The final event of Olympia 2015 was the Monday evening Grand Final Medium Agility Stakes. As usual, the running order was the reverse of the placings in the semi-finals at the Agility Festival. As you can expect the pressure was on the first handler to go, who in this case was Chantal Karyta with her Sheltie. She had a clear round in 38.22 seconds but of course the big guns were still to come. All eyes as usual, had to be on Natasha Wise, our World Championship handler and her extremely talented dog Agility Champion Raeanne’s Flipping Heck who was running seventh. All the handlers up to this point had achieved clear rounds so Natasha knew exactly what she had to do – and she did it with another display of world class agility with a clear round in 31.35 seconds, 1.5 seconds ahead of Steven Richardson with Agility Champion No Worries Sweep’s Dream who was clear in 32.73 seconds. Just about in the trophies in third place, was Tracey Flower with her clear in 33.21 seconds. So a great end to a great show.
It never ceases to amaze me just how exciting Olympia is and also how stressful it is running it. But I couldn’t do it without superb team with me at Olympia – Gwyn and Ann Roberts, Arthur Rodgers, Rob Hunter, Paul Moore, Kate Smith and Charlie Wyatt. We were also assisted on one of the days by our 2016 judge Lee Gibson. Of course finally I must thank Tom Quinn for bringing his skills down from Scotland as well as the good company from him and Margaret at Olympia over the six days.