Monday, April 17, 2006

The Dilemma(s)

...continued from yesterday...

So it's Friday morning. Fields are drying out but are still not superb. Yesterday we had 6 runs and I'm exhausted. Good thing I'm not running two dogs at the moment. How did I do it for all that time? (It occurred to me the other day that I was 10 years younger when I started doing agility, 9 years younger when I added a second dog. I suppose that makes a difference--)

The morning is a little chaotic again. Once again, we're walking 3 courses simultaneously in opposing corners of the site. And trying to keep track of when it's open walkthrough, when it's walkthrough just for our heights, when the ring is actually starting, how far they've actually gotten in each ring, and so on.

The Relay Run

One of the classes is the DAM Team Relay. The courses are not simple but they're not rocket science, either--but the judge throws everyone for a loop by removing the baton that's usually exchanged and replacing it with a large hard-plastic "rubber duckie" (that I didn't think to photograph, dang) that instead of carrying with you, you are handed by your teammate when you *finish* running. In other words, usually the runner hands the next person the baton; now the next person has to hand the finished runner the duckie.

If we could have harnessed the energy used by 63 teams times 3 dogs in discussing how the handoff was supposed to work, we could've powered the entire city of Sacramento for half a day, or at least have fired up a giant hairdryer to dry out the fields. Conversations were still going on an hour after the walkthrough.

So we got distracted by that during our walkthrough period, although we were trying not to. Partner C was doing full-time ring-coordination work in another ring, so she had to be dragged away from her job to walk the course, and had to leave early to go back there to get her ring ready to run. It was like that for her all weekend. How she held up and made so many great runs anyway is beyond me.

We were team #17 in the running order. I watched some of the earlier teams. Some folks did go off course, but often they were just odd handling errors that I couldn't figure out the logic for. It wasn't like the Team Standard course the previous day, where nearly half the competitors in some heights Eed.

Finally we're up. Partner B is on the line, Partner C has the ducky. I'm the third runner, so all I have to do is take the ducky from B after she gets it from C and C is on course, then hand it to C when she's done running--then run my own course, which is pretty straight-forward. I think.

Partner B has a little bobble somewhere, but stays on course. That's OK; little bobbles are not going to hurt us now. Partner C hands her the ducky and takes off. The first half of her run is beautiful--and then she loses track of how far she has to move to complete a front cross, and pulls her dog over the wrong jump. An E. We're probably dead meat. So I know, going into my run, that we can't possibly make it up with all the mess-ups we've made cumulatively during the competition. Still, I give it our best speedy shot--and lost track of how far I need to front cross and pull Tika off a jump--but manage to save it, so it's only a 2-point refusal penalty.

We know we have not Qed. It's depressing. And it's not just Partner C's run. If we had all had good runs all the time earlier, this one E wouldn't have mattered and more than any one of our bobbled runs would have mattered independently. It's just more obvious in people's minds because it's the last run of the DAM event.

And what this means is that we all have to hold it together AGAIN for ANOTHER 5 runs on ANOTHER weekend to try to be in the top 50% next time for a Q. The thought is exhausting on top of everything else.

Other Runs

So Tika and I go off and try another Master Standard run. Tika doesn't wait for the "OK" to leave the start line, but she does wait for me to turn around. Not really acceptable but I let her get away with it again. She doesn't stick ANY of her contacts, and because I'm waiting for her to stop, she gets out ahead of me towards the next jump, then turns back to see what I'm doing, and badda-bing, we've got a refusal and a failure to Q. AND she knocks the bar while I'm trying to keep her from getting the refusal.

We run the Grand Prix qualifier. I'd really like to place; we already have the Qs we need for this year. But, in keeping with our history of 5-fault GP Qs, she doesn't wait for the "OK" at the start line, she doesn't stick her contacts, and when coming off one early, I'm stopped to wait for her, so she turns back from the next jump and earns a refusal AGAIN. But at least she keeps the bar up, and we make it all the way through and earn another plain-old no-placement GP Q. It's smack-dab average with that bar down, placing 25th of 54 26" dogs.

We now have a history of Qing 12 out of 20 attempts at Grand Prix Qualifiers--every bloody one of those Qs with 5 faults except for our very first one ever, at our very first USDAA trial ever, 3 years ago, right before she went off the deep end of realizing she was off leash and we spent a year trying to get on track again. Crap.

Later in the day, we have a Master Gamblers run. The gamble looks doable. We have a decent plan for our opening, we execute perfectly, I'm holding her on her contacts for practice, we're right where I want to be when the whistle blows--and then I OVER push her and she takes a jump TOO far out after hestitating and bouncing back and forth a half step a couple of times between the right one and the wrong one. Crap crap crap! Turns out that NONE of the 35 dogs in 26" get the gamble; only 4 of the 170 dogs of all heights get it. We're good for 9th place with our decent opening but that's not a ribbon. Crap.

Then there's Masters Snooker. It's a 4-reds optional and weaves are the 7-pointer. I time the course and there is absolutely no way that I can justify not doing four 7-pointers in the opening. The only tricky bit is that, to be most efficient to get the shortest time, which I'm convinced we'll need for the SuperQ, we need to take a jump sideways at one side of the field and dive all the way across the field to make a sideways entry to the weaves.

Tika has great weave entries and I think she can do that part. She also sometimes knocks bars. I have a plan for that, though--if she knocks the first bar, there's a nearby Red that I can take instead of the weaves--then we probably won't get the superQ but at least we'll get a Q and, who knows, there are plenty of chances for other people to screw up.

So I lead out halfway across the field. She waits for me. I release her, she flies across the jump and towards me and I think Yes! and spin around and direct her straight at the weave entrance and as she dives for it, I hear behind me--clank clank boing--the sound of a jump-bar falling. I scream Tika's name and turn away from the weaves, but it's too late--she has made a perfect weave entry as I was sure she would, thereby invalidating our run (because we hadn't successfully completed a red), and we're whistled off the course, for a 0-point run. Crap crap CRAP.

It Begins

And then one of my partners comes to tell me that we not only actually Qed in the DAM--we were 19th! I worked my way over to look at the posted results. Sure enough, there we were! 35 teams made it, so we were way up in the standings.

See, that's an interesting thing about DAM. Different classes are weighted differently, and depending on when you do well and when you're only around average, and depending on whether you manage to hang on to being merely average on ALL your runs, actually you could end up placing much higher than teams who did spectacularly on some runs but poorly on others. And we had been pretty much average or slightly below overall. It was amazing that, with an E in the last round, we still did so well--not only that, but I asked, and the dogs were worth 150 points each, so if we hadn't Eed, we'd have placed *3rd* overall, which really astounded me.

I was curious how some friends had done on their team, because they had had a very nice relay run with no Es--and their score was very similar to ours. It was puzzling, but then DAM scoring is puzzling, and maybe they were much slower or had more faults than I had realized, or we were faster that I had realized, or who knows.

I was delighted. Got that Q out of the way. AND completed our Tournament Master title. Later in the afternoon I discovered that the club had really cool, huge, gorgeous ribbons for the TM title, and I paraded it around and showed it to a bunch of people.

And I kept thinking--how come our score, with an E worth 150 points, was virtually the same as a team with no E?

And so, finally, I had to go to the score box and dig out our scribe sheet. There was no "E" on our sheet. We had been credited with a complete full set of 3 dogs' points.

I mentioned it to my teammates. We discussed it. We knew that there must be many errors out there. I mean, if we had 4 errors on our various runs over 2 days, there must be tons of errors everywhere, and I'll bet that other people know about errors but don't correct them, and there are probably TONS who don't even know whether their scores are right or not and just accept them, and if it weren't for my nosiness and my comparison of our score to someone else's, my teammates (and probably even I) would never have known at all that something was amiss.

But it's like Pandora's Box; once it's out, it's out and you can't just put it back. We had no idea whether it would prevent us from Qing, but we suspected so. Remember, we had been expecting to not Q. So do we report it or don't we?

We started second-guessing--if it was a judge's error, then was it OK to leave it? Did we remember for sure whether the judge had called it or whether we just ASSUMED that the judge had called it? We couldn't remember. And we've all had experiences where we report something like that to the judge and been told that, well, if the judge didn't call it, then that's that. And we all know that sometimes errors like that are very much in your favor, and sometimes they're very much not in your favor, and the longer you do agility, the more you just groan and pick up the pieces as best you can and wait for it to go in your favor again.

Or was it a scribing error--the judge called it but the scribe wrote the wrong thing or didn't write it at all--in which case, do we have to get the judge to remember that we Eed when it goes against what's on the sheet? And what are the odds that the judge would remember one dog out of 190?

But the thing that's different about the DAM is that--if we got a Q that we didn't deserve, we were preventing another team of 3 people who *did* deserve it from Qing.

And then we started thinking that maybe she hadn't TAKEN the wrong jump, she had just APPROACHED the wrong jump but not taken it (the scribe sheet had a fault on it as if that's what had happened). This is why eye witnesses are so unreliable; we had almost convinced ourselves that maybe it was possible. But no, really, we all knew that it was over when she TOOK the jump; we wouldn't all three have mis-seen the action.

By this time it was late in the evening and everything had been put away for the day and the crowds dispersed.

Then I started thinking maybe I had looked at the wrong scribe sheet and we were OK after all.

Or that maybe even with the E we'd have Qed anyway and it wouldn't matter--I mean, would one E on a 9-obstacle course fraction really drop us from 19th to below 35th? It couldn't possibly--could it?

That Night

I couldn't get it out of my head. I really wanted that Q and that TM ribbon and to be able to relax about it, but I couldn't.

I had bought a backpacking self-inflating, very expensive I might add, air mattress, and added that to the top of my foam pads, and I was much more comfortable physically, although the knee was really acting up and my shoulders were still unhappy and the Case of the Missing E haunting me off and on all night. be continued... sorry, I have to work...

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