Mark has asked me to write a few words on preparing and winning Olympia 2015. Olympia has, and always will be, the biggest and best event of the year, it's the reason I started agility and the event that gives me the biggest buzz by far. Quite simply there is no agility event in the world that compares and I think the vast majority of the British Agility population would agree. This means it's the easiest event to prepare for as the motivation to win is at its highest.
Preparation for Olympia began a few weeks ago with fitness programmes in place for both Rehab and I to cope with the bigger distances and longer running times, that we are presented with at Olympia. Running the different style of courses plays some part in the preparation but is by no means the biggest part. In training I put far more emphasis on the basics with very high reward levels. My last preparation was 5 days before Olympia at a UKA show which had 3 agility classes. This enabled me to reward every contact 3 times in the competition environment on a surface identical to Olympia. I believe a vital part of my success is from these training runs, as they not only reward the good behaviours but they also keep the dogs completely focused on myself due to the high ratio of reward. When we step into the big arenas, with the added distraction of 9500 people cheering and screaming, the focus remains on me and the cues I give.
As Mark knows as GB Team manager, one of the more difficult aspects of competing internationally is the problems with travel. As an individual at Olympia and not part of a team, I can travel considering what's best for my dog as well as keep her in an environment she is chilled and relaxed in throughout the 10 hour wait between the semi final and final. I know when I step to the line that my dog and myself are in the best physical condition possible. This knowledge also plays a big part in the mental game with the belief you are both ready and able.
In the semi final run itself, for me there is a huge tactical part in trying to qualify for the evening final but not trying to be too far up the placing's. 10th, so running 1st in the final, is always the goal. This year 7th and therefore 4th to go in the final, was not the perfect place but a position I was more than happy with.
When I run early in a final it's all about building pressure on those to come, knowing they are watching you put down a great run is not only a great motivator but more essentially builds the pressure. If you achieve the run you have planned, the others know they now have to go for it. Rehab only measures 450, so you would think realistically she would struggle, yet I knew when I crossed the line that the bigger dogs would now have to be really pushed to beat me. In the 10 evening finals I have been in the tactic has helped me win 5 times but on 5 occasions someone has stood up, beaten the run and pushed me into 2nd place four times and third on the other occasion. At that point you have to give the winner complete respect and walk away knowing you gave it your best but on this occasion someone was better. That essentially is the goal of the final, being able to walk away with "no regrets" then if the result goes your way...."Happy Days".
One of the great things about Olympia is the experience it gives both handlers and dogs who are looking to compete on the international stage. The winning, the losing but essentially running in the big environment with the nerves, is a big learning curve for all as well as desensitising handlers and dogs to the distractions of these environments and events. I've no doubt this year's Gold medal winning team, both handlers and dogs, have benefitted greatly from the many previous Olympia's. For me personally it is a great shame that next year only 20 dogs will qualify for the two large finals. GB teams, in the way of up and coming dogs, are potentially weakened as some of our future top dogs will miss out on this opportunity in Novice. This lack of experience for current and future GB Teams, not being in that pressured environment on a regular basis has to be detrimental and I hope this is something the KC reverse as soon as possible. The old adage, don't break what's not broken seems to be a message sadly missed.
Finally I would like to say a big thank you to Dave Ray and his team. They have run the event I dreamed of winning as a 12 year old and have continued to keep that event at the same level for the 23 years I have been to Olympia. They have made it a very special place to win. The rumour is this team is now calling it a day which is a great shame, so if it's true I would just like to Thank all of them on behalf of all the competitors who have competed there over the last 25 + years.