Achilles, who earned the name of the mythic Greek hero after injuring his left hind leg as a puppy, turned in the best run of the retriever trials to grab the first gold medal awarded at Great Outdoor Games V.
"I'm so, so pumped," said Jackson, a registered nurse who also has been a full-time dog trainer for seven years. "Achilles never argued with me. He worked with me, and that was the key."
Jackson, of Dyersburg, Tenn., and Achilles scored a competition-best 29 points, easily surpassing the silver-medal team of Ready and handler Alex Washburn of Oxford, Miss., who finished the medal round with 53. Nike and handler Jerry Day of College Park, Ga., took the bronze with 55. In retriever trials, dog-handler teams earn points for a variety of faults in the competition. As in golf, a low score is best.
In fact, Jackson said the team's score should have been lower.
"I messed it up a couple of times," he said. "I should've left him alone on one of the marks. He knew where it was, but I handled him anyway. I should've just left him alone and let him do his thing."
After the first round on Tuesday, the field of 12 dog-handler teams was trimmed to eight for the semifinal round on Wednesday morning. Four teams advanced to Wednesday afternoon's final, where Jackson and Achilles all but dominated.
The other two medal-winning teams were no strangers to the champions' stand. Handlers Washburn and Day each have Great Outdoor Games gold from previous outings with other dogs.
Washburn's Lab, Ready, earned his silver medal just 10 days after he was diagnosed with Lyme disease, Washburn said. Despite battling health problems that haven't yet been fully diagnosed -- the dog has an enlarged spleen and liver -- Ready still turned in a solid performance.
"I'm amazed," said Washburn, who won the retriever trials gold in 2002 and a silver last year with Ticket. "This dog has just got a lot of heart and a lot of go."
Bronze medal handler Day took gold in 2001 and silver in 2002 with Nike's mother, Super Sue. Nike's registered name is "Sue Says Just Do It."
"She got the bronze for her mother," Day said. "Gold is great, but bronze is OK, too."
Rankin and handler Stacey West of Louisburg, N.C., who had the best score in both the opening and semifinal rounds, faltered in the final and finished fourth with 82 points.
"In my opinion, it was a lack of experience in a 3 1/2-year-old dog," West said. "When something went wrong, we weren't able to come back from it."
Admission to the Great Outdoor Games is free. The Games will be televised on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC from July 14 through July 19.
Top outdoor athletes from around the world compete for entry into the ESPN Great Outdoor Games, held in Madison, Wis. July 8-11. The ultimate championship of outdoor sports features one-of-a-kind, head-to-head competition in timber and target events, sporting dogs, and fishing. While entertaining large crowds on site, the ESPN Great Outdoor Games also draws a worldwide television audience airing on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC Sports.
The Games are sponsored by Dodge, Miller Brewing Co., Stihl Inc., Valvoline Durablend, CITGO, Eukanuba, Johnsonville Brats, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, Tinactin, and Beretta USA Corp.
For additional information, contact ESPN Outdoors Communications at (608) 256-1463 or visit www.espnoutdoorsmedia.com.