Stare Down. Size Up.

My childhood dog was a Jack Russell Terrier by the name of Chester.

I remember him tethered to the trailer ball at the back of the car as it sat in the driveway. I was digging holes in the hard Queensland dirt with my dad and brother while Chester strained against his collar, pulling the rope tight. His throaty cough, rasping hard through his vocal chords, was the background accompaniment to the grating of our metal shovels against the dirt and rocks.

If Chester had been a halfway normal dog we could have let him off the leash to relax. But relaxation was a notion foreign to that nervous system, his body a knot of muscle, tension and strain.

I only saw him go limp once. That was the day the vet injected a dark poison into his neck that shut him off forever. As the stink of the poison hit my nostrils, I felt his strong heart beat slow, and then stop, my hand on his chest. Even on the short walk from the car to the vet’s front door, he had lunged, teeth bared, toward the other dogs, collapsing as his hips and knees failed, finally having relinquished their support for him after a lifetime of acceleration and hard stops, leaps and tumbles.

About a decade earlier - on that sweaty day in the front yard of our Queensland home - Chester’s brown dog-eyes had locked on to a Rottweiler who had left its yard and was cruising on the strip of grass opposite us. I recognised the beast as belonging to an acquaintance up the street, who favoured the beautifully simple moniker "Dude" to address the 60kg Panzer.

Before every contest there is the eyeball-moment: the stare down and size up. In the ancient reptilian centre of the brain, the opponent’s limbs, proportions, and capacity for aggression are assessed instantaneously. In the same moment the brain arrives at a binary yes-no decision: step up or back down.

I knew my dog. He never backed down. And now, in this moment as the rope suddenly snapped with Chester's final adrenalised tug, this fact filled me with fear for his life.

I swivelled quickly toward the unfolding catastrophe. He had gotten this size-up horribly wrong. As Chester hurtled toward his opponent, I knew Dude could destroy my champion dog in a second.

True to his name, Dude assessed the incoming white-and-brown bomb and slowly shifted his weight to one side. From behind his nearest hind leg came a strong stream of urine. As Chester copped it in his face, I grabbed him from behind and lifted him into my scared kid arms – left hand grabbing his collar in anticipation of his resistance, right hand reaching through to his furry nugget chest – and carried him back over the street toward my laughing brother and dad.

I have always admired my dog Chester. I doubt he even noticed the humiliating spray of piss. Not once since I chose him from out of the litter as a puppy did he ever show timidity or fear.

Stare-downs and size-ups happen in human life too, usually buried beneath our consciousness in the dark reptile basement.

Pictured is the USA under-23 Ultimate Frisbee men's team lined up across a beautiful pitch on the outskirts of London.

Above all else what I've learned by observing play throughout the week is that the American is a supremely athletic thing: hypertrophied taut calves attach to strong thighs stripped of bulk, which terminate at a popping ass purpose-designed to catapult his frame high into the air. Christmas tree musculature hugs the lumbar spine, his ribcage is pulled down toward the pelvis, and the two shoulder blades hang in balance like powerful tight anchors to the arms.

On Wednesday I watched the Aussie u23 Goannas go to battle with the American Dudes. They matched them with heart, but were outclassed in skill and athleticism. 17-6 was the final score. It wasn't a spray of piss in the face, but it was still a thrashing.

In October a handful of the u23 Aussies have the opportunity to graduate to the top men's team and metamorphose into a Dingo. They are on the 40-man squad which will be reduced to less than 20 by December.

Japan 2012 was the last time the Dingoes played the USA: victory eluded them by a single point.

The next chance will be at London 2016. The long stare-down-size-up has begun.

 

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