Interview with WAO Supervising Judge Marq Cheek

Marq Cheek at WAO 2016 photo credit: Pieter Bezuijen
Marq Cheek at WAO 2016
photo credit: Pieter Bezuijen
Marquand Cheek of the United States served as the supervising judge for the 2016 World Agility Open (WAO) Championship, responsible for overseeing the three competition judges at the event and has held that role since 2014. In 2013, he was one of three WAO judges in Spain.

DogAgilityNOW: Congratulations on a great WAO in England! You’ve been in the sport for over 20 years and travelled all over the world on judging assignments. The WAO judges were Anthony Clarke of England, Patty Drom of the United States, and Jorge Pires of Portugal. How was your role as a supervisor different from your typical role as a judge?
Marq Cheek: Thank you. We were very pleased with the event and with our judging panel. WAO’s intent is to appoint judges with different design styles to provide a worldwide reflection of agility. The Supervising judge’s key oversight role is to assist judges with interpreting WAO rules. Our goal is to provide fairness and as much consistency as possible across all judging.
In addition, there are a lot of pre-event duties that include seeking new potential judges, providing selected judges with a list of design guidelines and ring/equipment specs. Along with Greg Derrett, I review submitted courses for dog and handler safety, judging paths/sight-lines, limited re-use of jumps (6-7 obstacles between repeats) and for ring entry/exit efficiency.

DogAgilityNOW: Through the internet and especially social media, courses from major competitions like the WAO are shared quickly and globally. In your opinion, how have courses at this event evolved over the years since its creation in 2011?
MC: After reviewing all the courses saved on the WAO website, my conclusion is that there really hasn’t been a definable evolution. However, there has been a common theme that a combination of speed, efficiency and consistency are all necessary for success. Judges from 12 different nations over the past six years have brought in their own design influences. Courses have been challenging since the very first year when Mia Laamanen of Finland (a previous AWC judge) gave the handlers on Day 1 of the competition, a course with long stretches of running, discrimination tests, threadles, back-side jumps and a side change at the weave poles. (see map below)

WAO2016PentAgility1

DogAgilityNOW: What about general trends in international course design outside of the WAO? Have you seen any national or regional influences?
MC: Ah, good question. Clearly the backside approach to jumps and tunnels has become the norm around the world. Several tunnels are used and most are straight or only slightly curved. Uneven threadles (both push- and pull-through versions), severe weave entries often with side changes are also common. With regard to regional differences, UK judges expect the handler to be nearly as athletic as the dog or a dog trained to ‘go on’. You’ll see a lot of long, straight lines from them. They also will challenge dogs to make discriminations at speed. Mainland European judges also require lots of running in part because the common course size there is 20×40 meters (64’x128’). Narrow courses lead to longer lines. Many have eschewed the use of the collapsible tunnel since it’s optional in WAO, and I encourage that as well. USA/North American judges are more familiar with square rings and tend to have designs that flow more with angles laterally across a course. Their distances between obstacles are more compressed, but with the large arenas available each year, even they will expand. Agility (Standard) courses measuring 180-190 meters (196-207 yards) are not uncommon at WAO or at other major European events.

DogAgilityNOW: What did you think of the handling and skill level of competitors and dogs at the event compared to other comparable international competitions?
MC: World class, as one would expect. There are many handlers who attend both AWC and WAO. Nicola Giraudi from Italy is a World Champion in both venues; Silvia Trkman was out this year as her dog had puppies, but she will return as a dual FCI AWC and WAO Gold medalist. Multiple medalists from England were there and running superbly. All nations in attendance including Canada, Sweden and USA are sending the best handlers their countries have available. The variety of handling skill-sets and enthusiastic, intelligent dogs is exciting. Granted, some countries are new to the sport, but they show improvement with each passing year.

DogAgilityNOW: Do you think the proliferation of international events helps the sport or dilutes the quality of these championship events, or perhaps both?
MC: I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer that question, but I have some observations.
While there are a number of championship events, many have been in place for years: FCI AWC, EO, WAO, IFCS, Dania Cup, Crufts, Border Collie Classic and International Sheltie Competition are prime examples. Americans are just discovering many of them and have to make choices on what events to earn qualification invitations. In Europe, the top handlers seem to attend as many of these as possible and it’s logistically more feasible for them. People do have to make decisions where to spend their money and time. There are so many great handlers and dogs now that I don’t think the major events are saturated to the point of diluted quality. Well managed events like WAO bring in top talent and the sport grows positively as a result.

DogAgilityNOW: If there was one thing you could change for next year’s WAO, what would it be?
MC: It’s what Greg Derrett and Monica Percival have been doing all along and that’s focusing on dog and handler with continuous process improvement for all aspects of the event. This year they tested a real-time computer display feed, designed by Jean Murray, showing top dog scores in class and score/time needed by dog on-line to overtake leader in the class and in the combined medal position. I’d like to see that data appear on a big-screen (a sponsor for that would be nice!) for all to see and for an announcer to have it come directly to their laptop so the crowd can be further informed. All of these are in the works! Outside of WAO, I’d like to see more FCI Country Kennel Clubs be consistent with fair trade laws and allow their judges to preside at WAO events also.

DogAgilityNOW: Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us today. Where can people follow you?
MC: Facebook is my primary means (Marquand Cheek). I’ve considered writing a blog, but I’m too busy training and playing with my own dogs and preparing for WAO next year!

Esteban Fernandezlopez

A long time agility competitor and co-creator of Bad Dog Agility, Esteban is serving as the first Editor-in-Chief of Dog Agility NOW.