“The USA wins the gold! The USA wins the gold! The USA wins the gold!” Those words rang across the grooming world as, once again, GroomTeam USA won first place in the World Team Grooming Championships in Barcelona, Spain, this past October. The events leading up to this fantastic win stands as a testament to the tenacity and determination of the American spirit that lives on in our industry.
No strangers to the international grooming arena, the members of GroomTeam USA were Lindsey Dicken (Florida), Irina Pinkusevich (Florida), Michell Evans (Oregon), Veronica Frosch (Minnesota), and team alternate Olga Zabelinskaya (New Jersey). Guided by the GT board of directors and the very motivated coordinator, Cheryl Purcell (Massachusetts), they worked together in anticipation of this trip. Support came in many forms, from help in the months-long preparation of the competition dogs to the planning of transportation of team members and their models and everything in between. I know firsthand that these trips can be difficult to put together, and Team Coordinator Cheryl Purcell did a fantastic job. Flights, transfers, and lodging for contestants and canines as well as the sizable group of American supporters went smoothly.
The two-day competition started out with the individual competitions. Hosted by Arturo International and organized by the European Grooming Association, the contest arena was a spectacular site with its show-style lighting effects and big screen TV coverage, enabling the large crowds to get a bird’s eye view of the huge contest ring. Saturday morning brought the Handstrip Competition as well as the Commercial Class, the European equivalent of Mixed/Miscellaneous. The afternoon was for the Spaniel and Scissor classes. Sunday morning saw the Poodle class with GT team member Lindsey Dicken winning the class of about sixty entries. Lindsey’s big win definitely set the pace for the rest of the day.
On to the team competitions as Sunday afternoon saw the introduction of all 16 teams (a record number) entered in the world competition: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, England, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, USA, and for the first time in international competition, China and New Zealand. The ring was a thing of beauty with each team lined up in a row of four with each class running the entire length of the ring. Sixty-four beautiful dogs and their respective stylists! Each team was smartly outfitted in uniforms reflecting their home country, and each team was accompanied by their nation’s flag, alternate team members, and team coordinators. The United States was the last team introduced, guaranteeing us a prime ringside location. Following the introductions, the members were led to their tables, their dogs were delivered, and the grooming began.
As I made my way to the USA side of the ring, I met Doug Berry, Lindsey’s father, among the American cheering section. On an iPad ringside, he was running video that was being streamed live to the NEPGP show in Rhode Island, which was going on the same weekend. He was in communication with Barkleigh’s Todd Shelly and Skip Bond, the tech whiz who helps make GroomerTV happen. They asked if I would do the live feed “play-by-play” of the competition. Suddenly I was thrust into the role of sports commentator for our industry, since I knew what was going on as well as all the players. What a thrill it was to share this experience with all my friends not only back in the States but worldwide!
It was obvious from the start that this was going to be a tough competition, as the groomers from many of the other teams were well known in the industry, and their models had been prepared to perfection. The judges certainly had their work cut out for them. There were four classes that qualified for international competition: Poodles, with our representative Veronica Frosch and her model Cindy Lou; Spaniels, represented by Irina Pinkusevich and her black and white American Cocker Nicky; Michell Evans with Phil, her Australian Terrier Handstrip entry; and Lindsey Dicken with the Bichon, Zoey, in the Scissoring class. The clock started, and the grooming began.
Six international judges presided over the event along with two team leaders. Poodle and Purebred Scissoring judges were Mirjam v.d.Bosch (Netherlands), Shaunna Bernardin (Canada), and Kitty Ponnett (Belgium) with Umberto Lehmann (Italy) presiding. Judges for the Handstripping and Spaniel classes were Chiara Piccionetti (Italy), Martial Carré (France), and the USA’s own Scott Wasserman with Emilia Diaz (Spain) leading the team. As finish times were called, the judges examined their charges, ranking them from first place to sixteenth place.
As the time ticked down and the classes finished, it began to feel like the last two minutes of the Super Bowl… an eternity! While I was broadcasting live through GroomerTV, they could hear everything I was saying, but I was not able to communicate with them in any way other than texting. As we closed in on time, Todd and Skip texted that they were so anxious to hear the results that they were going to call “scissors down” in the middle of the NEPGP grooming class to listen to the results. Finally, six finalist teams were announced. Italy, Spain, France, Australia, Russia, and the USA! The room went crazy! The World Competition two years ago had been won by the French with the USA coming in second, and the USA had taken the gold two years before that with France in the Silver position. The tension of these see-saw wins was hanging over everybody. The French had made a good showing, and their dogs looked marvelous, as did the Americans.
The ring was cleared, and only the six finalist teams remained. As if it weren’t taking enough time already, a computer glitch caused further delay, and the anticipation of the crowd was growing. The live broadcasting had been going so well that we were joking that the only thing that could possibly go wrong would be to lose the WiFi. Just as they get up to the podium to announce sixth place, the iPad power goes low and we lose the feed. I am feverishly writing down the placements while Doug is sweating to get us up and running again. Skip at GroomerTV finally texted me with “You’re live again.” With that said, I announced sixth place going to the Italian team and fifth going to Australia, their first ever placement in team competition. We were live again, and the world stopped to hear Spain garner the fourth position.
Tension was mounting. National spirit in the crowd was getting loud and proud. The show organizers asked everyone to tone it down a bit so all could hear. The hall was packed with hundreds of people all cheering on their teams like rabid soccer fans. Russia was called up for the bronze medal, leaving just France and the USA to await their fate. Gold or silver: what would it be? Finally, when the spectators had calmed down, we heard “Second place: France,” and we all went crazy! I found myself screaming into the microphone “The USA takes the gold! The USA takes the gold! The USA takes the gold!” not unlike the broadcaster at the 1984 Olympic hockey team win. It was electric! Our ladies in red, white, and blue did it again!
All this did not come easily, and GroomTeam USA has had a lot of support over the years. The Premium Sponsors backing has been an essential part of the organization. Andis Company, Wahl Clipper Company (who also supplied the groomers with international clippers for the competition), PetSmart, Trendy Wendy, Espree, Nature’s Specialties, and Ultra Lift have all helped make it possible. Once again, Jodi Murphy outfitted the team beautifully with her custom-made uniforms. And then there was the American cheering section. Doug Berry with his iPad made it possible to stream the video to GroomerTV. Lulu helped with travel plans. Michael, Willy, Alex, Elizabeth, Katie, Osmundo… I could go on and on! There were SO many of you, and everybody worked together with the team as a team. Washing, drying, walking the dogs, and helping take care of the team members. There is SO much that goes on behind the scenes, and we can’t thank everybody enough. You are ALL part of this!
Congratulations to GroomTeam USA. Once again, you have done us proud and shown the world what we are made of. It’s safe to say that the best pet stylists in the world are right here in the USA!