Photo and story by Carley Olejniczak / Contributing Writer
Thursday, Oct. 26
Time to get warmed up. Sharon Anderson and Jennifer Crank walk outside to the practice field with P!nk, a scrappy, young Border Collie on their heels, itching for a run.
It’s a crisp autumn morning in Murfreesboro, the temperature only reaching the 50s. The Tennessee Miller Coliseum is Middle Tennessee State University’s horse science center and is a local venue for horse shows. But today, there are no horses in sight.
That’s because from October 25-29, the TMC is hosting the USDAA Cynosport World Games, a dog agility world championship tournament.
The sound of excited dogs fills the air as owners, trainers and canines prepare for their turn in the spotlight. There are five different rings for competing, vendors selling handmade dog tags and offering pet massages and an outdoor practice course.
The practice course is where 2-year-old P!nk starts her day. Anderson, her owner, and Crank, her trainer, travelled from Columbus, Ohio, to compete in the World Games with this one-of-a-kind dog.
Anderson, who owns four other dogs, expects nothing less than a win from P!nk.
“This is all she thinks about,” Anderson said. “This is what she’s done her whole life.”
Crank won her first title in dog agility in 1994 when she was seven. She is now the owner of IncrediPAWS Dog Training, where she trains dogs for agility competitions. Crank has known P!nk for the dog’s whole life and even helped Anderson pick her out of the litter. But the dog and her trainer had not started working together for competitions until last April. Even with their short relationship as trainer and competitor, P!nk has done tremendously thus far.
After dominating at the local and regional levels, P!nk secured first place in her first ever national agility competition. This feat qualified her for a chance to compete at the World Games.
Winning her first national competition isn’t her only unusual accomplishment. P!nk’s young age makes her unique as well.
Dogs trained for agility competitions typically peak between ages 5-7 — young dogs are prone to be unfocused with too much left-over puppy energy — so a two-year-old competing at this level is extremely remarkable.
Her raw talent and focus at such a young age makes P!nk the one to watch for her competitors.
The Cynosport World Games consists of four competition events: a three-Dog Championship team event, Grand Prix, Biathlon and Steeplechase.
Today, P!nk is competing in the semi-finals of the Steeplechase, an obstacle course designed to test the speed and agility of a dog including hurtles, weave poles, tunnels and A-frames, which are very tall, steep two-way ramps.
It’s about 11:30 a.m., and P!nk is lined up to go for her three-minute practice run to work out any kinks or missed steps before she showcases her skills.
The clock starts and P!nk is off. Crank, her trainer, runs alongside her to guide her to the next hurdle. P!nk’s movement is sharp and her speed is excellent, but Crank and Anderson both know she’s the one to beat in today’s semifinal competition, so she needs to be at the top of her game.
The day before, in the quarterfinals, P!nk qualified first place in the Steeplechase event, finishing with a time of 25.36 seconds. The dog that qualified second had a time of 26.32.
“She’s such an incredible dog,” Crank said. “She has great control.”
After practice, P!nk barely has time to relax. They head over to the main arena to await the beginning of the semifinals. Finally, the 20-inch height class is called. Crank and P!nk march over to the edge of the arena.
The clock starts and P!nk rockets out from the starting line. She easily flies over the first seven hurdles, as though her paws barely even touch the ground. She zig-zags her way through the weaving poles in under four seconds and scales her way over the A-frame. Crank is running full speed with P!nk as she barrels through the tunnels and over the A-frame one last time. Finally, she jumps across the last hurdle and the clock stops.
The crowd gives a few cheers and a round of applause as P!nk jumps into her owner’s arms, still revved up with adrenaline from the run.
By the end of the event, P!nk qualifies third. The fastest dog clocked out at 25.74 seconds. Though her time was slower than the day before, this is still good enough to make it to the finals.
Saturday, Oct. 28
It’s the evening of the Steeplechase finals. The main arena is packed with spectators, competitors and their dogs.
In the stands, P!nk sits on Anderson’s lap, her brown and blue eyes glued to the coarse as trainers do their walkthroughs. Her ears twitch at every sound and she eagerly leans forward; her desire to run is unmistakable.
At 7:30 p.m., Anderson takes P!nk for a walk to take some of the edge off and to start getting loose.
“This is going to be her first time with big crowds,” Crank said. “I’m expecting her to be very excited. I’m hoping she’ll stay focused, but she might be on edge.”
Anderson isn’t worried.
“I think she’s going to win it all,” she said confidently.
Finally, at 10 p.m. her call time arrives.
After a few warm-up hurdles with Crank, the trainer and dog queue up with the other contestants.
“If I do well, she’ll be fine,” Crank said. “She’s a smart dog.”
Most of her competitors finish with a time between 31-36 seconds.
P!nk, who has a tendency to jump the start line early, sits patiently but eagerly until she’s told. When she’s finally let loose, her speed astounds the crowd.
The course for the finals is far more complex and larger than those of the previous rounds, but that doesn’t stop the young canine athlete as she barrels her way through. Over one, two, three hurdles, P!nk flies with ease. But on her leap over the broad jump boards, she clips her feet.
Even with the slight stumble, she rockets onward, nothing slowing her down. She leaps over the final hurdle as the clock stops.
P!nk finishes with the fastest time overall. The crowd cheers and P!nk is bubbling with excitement and energy.
To everyone’s dismay, five extra seconds are added onto her final time because of her mistake at the broad jump. What should have constituted first place, P!nk comes in fourth with a score of 35.28.
Though she doesn’t get to stand up on the winners’ podium, P!nk and Crank receive a ribbon and many congrats.
“It’s a bummer,” Crank said. “She should have won.”
But Crank and Anderson are far from disappointed in their fastest dog in the world. To do so well with such little experience is a win in itself.
“We’ve made it further than my expectations,” Crank said. “So regardless, I’m thrilled.”
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