Fierce dragons

MARK KEAST -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:37 AM ET

In ancient times, rivalries in dragon boat racing in China would grow so intense that teams would hurl rocks and smash each other with bamboo stalks.

Hopefully, a few thousand years of evolution have mellowed out the competitors a little bit. There certainly wasn't any rock-throwing going on yesterday during the second day of competition at the International Dragon Boat Federation Club Crew World Championships at the new $23 million Western Beaches Watercourse at Marilyn Bell Park, but that's not to say there aren't intense rivalries.

"You have your crews that you like and dislike," said Ed Hogendoorn of the Toronto Masters. "Some you really want to beat to a pulp."

Even the juniors are in on it. Sixteen-year-old Emma Pesme of Pickering, a drummer on the mixed junior boat from the West Rouge Canoe Club, talked about her team's rivalry with the Pickering Dragon Boat Club. In fact she could barely name another team her West Rouge squad was focusing on. Stratford, maybe. That's how focused she was on Pickering.

Not exactly a Tim Hortons commercial.

Still, good rivalries jazz up a weekend marketed as a "friendly" competition. The IDBF Club Crew world championships are held every two years, alternating with the IDBF world championships, involving national teams. That one goes next year in Sydney, Australia.

Dragon boat racing involves a crew of 22, comprising 20 paddlers facing the bow of the boat, one drummer, who leads the crew in part by the rhythmic beating of a drum to help pace the paddlers, and the steerer, or coxswain, those individuals who control the direction at the back of the boat by working a steering oar.

TRADITION

It's a sport deeply entrenched in Chinese tradition and culture, yet it has enjoyed real growth across the world.

Around 100 top crews from places such as Australia, Germany, China, the U.S., as well as from around Canada, are competing this weekend.

Yesterday, the 200-metre races were completed with some of the Canadian crews -- the False Creek Racing Canoe Club, the Canadian Senior Dragon Boat Club, the Laoyam Eagles and the Pickering Dragon Boat Club --dominating. For example, the Eagles, from Pemberton, B.C., won the junior mixed race, with Pickering coming in second, and West Rouge, young Pesme's squad, third.

The Canadian Senior Dragon Boat Club swept all three senior categories, including the senior open, senior mixed and senior women's events.

Today, 500- and 2000-metre heats and some finals will be held, with many of the major finals scheduled for tomorrow. There also are diversity races, community races and breast cancer survivor races throughout the weekend. Admission is free.


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