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A (brief) tale of two champions

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Scott Sommer and Stump, a Sussex spaniel, pose for pictures after Stump won Best in Show at the 133rd Westminster Kennel Club dog show at Madison Square Garden in New York, Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2009.
AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Flipping through channels last night in the odd spot between 10 p.m.’s leftovers and 11 p.m.’s starting credits, a pair of sporting events caught my attention.

First up was the 133rd Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, a tradition I have never entirely understood. The way I see it, a bunch of prissy pups lope around for a moment then strike their best pose. My former dog, a shelter mutt by the name of Lucky, used to do much the same thing, right before she lay down for a long nap.

The first competitor in Westminster’s seven-dog Best in Show lineup was the standard poodle. Shaved and teased into a caricature of dogliness, standard poodle no. 127 sported a bushy mane, four puffy ankle cuffs and a cotton ball tale sprouting from an otherwise bald body. In human form, the dog would have been wearing thick socks and an Afro with nothing else. I imagine his middle must get chilly.

Handler Timothy Brazier and his standard poodle, Affirmation, run in the ring during the non-sporting group competition, which she won, during the 133rd annual Westminster Kennel Club dog show in New York on Monday, Feb. 9, 2009.

Handler Timothy Brazier and his standard poodle, Affirmation, run in the ring during the non-sporting group competition, which she won, during the 133rd annual Westminster Kennel Club dog show in New York on Monday, Feb. 9, 2009.

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“This is the most exciting moment in our sport,” proclaimed a commentator seriously as the dogs circled the ring to applause.

Running alongside, the handlers looked awkward in their ballet flats and full suits. Most, I guessed, jog only when holding a leash in front of a judge. Dog shows are professional sports for the slightly overweight and middle-aged.

When the judge had made her decision the Westminster trophy went to a dapper, chestnut-colored Sussex spaniel. At 10 years he was oldest animal to ever take home the trophy, the equivalent of 70-years-old in human years. Where else but at Westminster can an elderly competitor take home the top prize?

Meanwhile, a few channels over a younger breed of athlete were getting ready to perform. The winter X Games in Aspen, Col. were flipping through the final rounds of the Big Air ski jumping competition, and jumpers Jon Olsson and Simon Dumont prepared their final tricks – huge flipping moves thrown off a sloping ramp high above the crowd.

After the staid, tuxedo-clad calm of Westminster, the X Games were all brash, youthful exuberance and risk taking. Olsson shot into the air for a flip tilted sideways that seemed to rotate endlessly. Dumont threw a double front tuck, laying out into a totally flat superman in between each rotation. The commentators gushed, turning to the Mega Mo high-speed camera, which shoots 300 frames per second, to slow down each jump into a gravity-defying piece of art.

As the two competitors caught their breath at the bottom of the slope, fans decided the winner via text message, voting for their favorite jump. When the texts were tallied, the winner was Dumont’s less difficult, but more impressive front flips, and the young man celebrated, waving a Target sponsored glove at the camera, with small red logos on each finger tip and a larger logo at the center of his palm.

Maybe next year, Westminster will let fans text their picks for the Best in Show dog. My vote would go to the poodle. For putting up with that ridiculous haircut, he deserves to take home the prize.

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