By Laura Richardson
For me, Olympia is the highlight of the Agility Calendar. Olympia 2016 was going to be a little different for me this year as I was going to be shadowing the legend and face of Olympia, Dave Ray, in my new role of Kennel Club Olympia Agility Manager.
Having arrived early on the Wednesday – pre competition days to meet the rest of the Olympia team and to locate and assess the venue, I was feeling excited, nervous, and full of adrenalin for the days ahead. After exploring the venue and getting my bearings on the site/the competitor entrance/car park and the arena I was feeling set to go into competition days.
ABC Finals – Thursday
Having scoped out a plan with Dave Ray for the competition days and what I would be best getting involved in, I watched as day 1 unfolded in full Olympia swing. 10 ABC dogs and their handlers all nervously waiting to be escorted into the arena by Dave. What happened next was like a clockwork machine in action. Horses gallop out of the arena, tractors start and show jumps are removed. More tractors rev their engines and the agility equipment starts to make its way in to the arena which is full to the roof with seats for the first competition of the week, the ABC Jumping Grand Prix. The execution of what happens in a matter of minutes is the most professional, highly oiled piece of agility set up I have been witness to. Start and finish jumps in place, timing set, weaves, tunnels and other jumps laid out in the massive arena in a matter of minutes. The judge Lee Gibson is given a matter of moments to check the course and angles before the competitors are released to have a walk of a course they have spent the last few hours studying on paper.
A bell rings in the arena from the commentary box and we know that the competition is about to get under way.
After a truly exhilarating, adrenalin-pumped 10 rounds of jumping, Jo Gleed wins the ABC jumping with her dog Bonivant with Extra Zoom – such a super run, well done.
We then have a short break, where the Working Party which includes Dave Ray (Manager), Arthur Rodgers (Ring Manager), Rob Hunter, Charlie Wyatt (Corner Men), Paul Moore (booking In/Timing), Kate Smith (Scrimer), David and Mick (First Contact) and Lee Gibson (Judge) all go for coffee and cake and dissect and talk through what worked well, what we need to tighten up on, and the rounds themselves.
We meet at 17:30 for a quick evening meal and then we get ourselves ready for the evening performance – the ABC Finals.
Again everything happens at lightning fast pace, it is like watching a clockwork team go into overdrive and again the execution of the course build is done in minutes in the most professional slick way. Everyone knows what they are doing and how and where they need to be – making Lee’s job as judge setting his course as easy as possible. With the arena packed full again the noise and the crowd make the environment like no other I have ever felt in my agility career, except for being in this place - the most prestigious arena at Olympia. Excitement and exhilaration are the main themes. Again the agility is epic – the crowd roar on every dog across the finish line, the sound is deafening but exciting. The winner of the evening course is Dave Leach and Abby – a truly splendid run and this shows the handler / dog bond in all its glory.
After a quick lap of honour the finalists are taken with their dogs, grooms and supporters to a private room where we all celebrate the win of the evening for Dave and Abby. We have a glass of bubbles and toast the winners and the sponsors – Kennel Club and Skinners - and we also toast all the finalists and the working party. Then there is a chance for some great photos taken by the lovely Yulia with all dogs and rosettes and trophies. After the evening presentations and photos all competitors are asked to visit the Kennel Club stand for pictures on a podium with Skinners and the Kennel Club. This is a great chance to endorse the wonderful sponsors and get great pictures of the dogs.
Friday – Small Final day
Similar excitement as the next day of finals commences with the Small Dogs this time – again the afternoon performance starts off with a jumping Grand Prix, the execution of building and setting a course a similar precision exercise. With the finalists lined up ready to go, the action takes place again with all the excitement and adrenalin of the previous day. Watching the small dogs navigate around this huge arena is like nothing else – little legs moving as fast as the wind and with such speed it makes the Jumping round as exciting as ever. The winner of the jumping round is Charlotte Harding and Teasel!
So again we approach the evening performance and the team are running like clockwork, and we have an addition to the team at this point – the 2017 judge Lynne Shore arrives to take in what she will be expected to do for the following year. This time in I am with Kate and we are scribing and scoring as the dogs go through the course. Again the atmosphere is electric. There aren’t enough words to describe how this environment is like no other – the noise of the crowd, the arena, the level of agility standard, the course, the running surface, the professional execution. It all adds into what is the most exciting agility to watch and to be a part of. Evening performance and it’s all to play for with the Smalls – ending the event with Charlotte and Teasel winners of the finals – truly magnificent.
We again repeat the evening presentations in a similar format to the evening before – I must say at this point that it is a truly special part of the day – it is a great way to congratulate the winners and the other competitors for getting to the finals.
Saturday – Senior 6/7 Semi-final and final day
This event is slightly different to the others (Novice is the same way). The event starts in the morning with 21 competitors arriving to run in the semi-final – the top ten dogs going through to the evening final and the 11-21st dogs into the Jumping Grand Prix round in the afternoon performance. We are given a slightly longer time frame to execute the semis and the morning semi-finals are slightly less rushed. Course set and walked with a little more time than the afternoon and evening performances. The arena is also not full (disappointing in my eyes as this event is still of brilliant proportions and the competitors and dogs have worked through qualifying rounds and a quarter final to get to this point.)
After a truly fantastic round of agility we have our winner, Dave Munnings and Fame.
Into the afternoon performance and another great jumping Grand Prix round, excitement and thrills watching as the rounds take place – ending with the winner of the Jumping Laura Chudleigh and Troy.
Into the evening where the pressure seems to mount – the finalists all want to be the one lifting the Senior trophy – the line-up is epic and we are all anticipating a fantastic final. The bell goes and the start of a truly fantastic agility round is underway – I can honestly say that the arena is the most electrifying I have ever experienced. Round after round goes and the tension builds as clear follows clear…the winner is Lee Windeatt and Pip.
The evening presentations again follow and this is as exciting as the previous two evenings – a real chance to congratulate the finalists and the dogs that have worked so hard.
Sunday – Novice finals
Similar set up on the Sunday – the Semi Finals in the morning – the competitors are briefed ringside where they get to see the course being built and the dogs are allowed to continue the warm up on a couple of jumps. This is more nerve racking than the other rounds as there are a lot of new faces arriving and this is completely new to them and the dogs. Similar format and the top 10 go into the evening final and the 11-20th places go into the Jumping Grand Prix in the afternoon.
Again the level of competitors and dogs is awesome, watching the rounds is truly mesmerising and it is a privilege to watch and lead this level of competition in this truly magnificent environment.
The semi is won by Dave Munnings and Rogue.
Into the afternoon Jumping Grand Prix, electrifying as always, this quite simply the best place for agility, and the arena is again pumped and ready to go. The winner of the Novice Jumping Grand Prix is Bonny Busby and Nedlo Moon Lightning – well done.
Into the evening performance – again Lee has set a stunning course for our competitors – the pressure is on as everyone wants to lift the title of the Novice Cup, none more so than Lee Windeatt as he is wanting the double. Excitement is an understatement – Lee goes clear and wins the Novice – amazing round. Well done Lee with Coy.
Final day approaches and it’s the Medium Finals for the last day of this epic week.
Monday – Medium Finals
Today we revert back to the afternoon and evening performance only – Medium dogs arrive around 11am to get familiarised with the venue and to check in.
Afternoon performance is again electric – the atmosphere is phenomenal – the Mediums raise the roof with the Jumping Grand Prix – and Natasha Wise and Dizzy win the jumping round.
Into the evening finals and the energy and excitement is palpable. Lee sets a brilliant course for the Medium dogs – watching is exhilarating – the winner is Sian Illingworth and Maybe – an epic round, well done.
Being part of this event is truly amazing: the running and the preparation that goes into making this event what it is, a true testament to Dave Ray and the Olympia team, the professionalism and the smooth execution of the events in the Arena are flawless and smooth.
The pre work that goes on behind the scenes makes this event happen with perfect execution.
The running of the event is a team effort and being part of a team is a primary function to getting the event right. Having a truly good leader and someone that makes decisions and that can support the team with everything is what holds the running of Olympia agility in such a high profile. I have been privy to see the time, effort and work that Dave Ray puts into making this event what it is today. I have large shoes to fill but I am ready and excited to take this forward to the next levels and to continue the event in a prestigious and competitive way that we have all come to know and love.
There is nothing comparable to Olympia – the setting, the time of year, the competitors and dogs, the location, the team that runs it, all add into what makes this one of the most prestigious events in the agility calendar. One of which I am proud to be a part of and to be the new Kennel Club Olympia Agility Manager is a role that I am excited and thrilled to have.