Saturday, May 04, 2013

The fastest boat crew in the Philippines: The battle of the Champions

It was in 2007 when the Philippines gained its prominence in the Dragon Boat community when the the national squad broke the 42-second IDBF World Record in Dragon Boat racing's 200-meter Standard Premiere Open category.

The country's National Team further cemented its status as the 'Fastest boat crew in the world' when it shattered its own previous record and set the still unbroken 40.022 second mark during the 9th IDBF World Dragon Boat Racing Championships in Prague, Czech Republic in 2009.

When the Pinoy paddlers finished with a back-to-back win in the 200-meter event, it drew some speculations. Because of their splendid performance, some detractors accused the Filipino athletes of doping.  For a cash-strapped sports team, it was a joke! 

Unknown to many, these world-renown paddlers were soldiers who were assigned to the Philippine Sports Commission by virtue of a Memorandum of Agreement between the PSC and the Department of National Defense.

Their secret was their positive mental attitude coupled with their outstanding self-discipline. In a race where 'every soldier counts', it was their strong comradeship that also matters. One boat, one direction

The 'Great Divide'

It was therefore a very unfortunate incident when internal squabbles (and bad politics in sports) led to the split of the Philippine Dragon Boat community into half in 2010. Whoa, it also happened in politics that led the split of countries like Sudan, India and Cyprus!

It was after this 'great divide' that some of the members of the 'Fastest boat crew in the world' returned to their respective home teams. 

Most of the Navy paddlers remained with the newly created Philippine Canoe-Kayak Federation (PCKF) except one who opted to report back to the naval headquarters. 

The other paddlers from the Philippine Coast Guard and the Philippine Air Force came back to their respective units, hoping to form their own Dragon Boat teams.

Meanwhile, seven of the Army paddlers opted to remain loyal with the Philippine Dragon Boat Federation (PDBF), the organization that is recognized by the IDBF as the authority of Dragon Boat races in the country. Well, the PCKF also claims to be the legitimate authority.

The Army veteran paddlers rejoined the newly formed Philippine Army Dragon Boat Team  gradually gaining its status as the strongest contender in the local races. Kung minsang magmintis, sila ay 2nd place

Interestingly, those who lost their lofty status as 'National Team' members were often referred to as the 'Ex-Nationals' which sometimes come with negative connotations. This name-calling has motivated the Army paddlers to further hone their skills and strive for betterment. 

And still, the 'Fastest Boat Crew'

During the 10th IDBF World Dragon Boat racing championships in 2011, the so-called 'ex-Nationals' rallied together behind the PDBF to form a small contingent that will compete in the Small Boat Events held in Tampa, Florida.

Calling themselves the Pinoy Dragon Warriors, the newly-formed crew was composed of soldiers from the Army (7 paddlers), Coast Guard (3), Navy (1) and the Air Force (2). The rest of the team members were civilians.

There were only 12 male Paddlers, a Steersman, a female Drummer and 5 female Paddlers limiting their participation to the Premiere Open events and the Mixed Events.

Despite the lack of resources and the big obstacles along the way, the team trained hard in preparation to the big day.

As we later knew it, the team made headlines when it captured 5 Golds and 2 Silver Medals during the  World Championships which was dubbed as the Olympics of dragon boating.

Pinoy friends cheering for the Dragon Warriors in the background during the 10th IDBF World Championships in Tampa, Florida, USA.

The team also set the fastest time records in 5 events that they participated.

To the spectators around the world and even prominent sports officials, Team Philippines was indeed the best.

"The Filipinos are indeed the fastest boat crew in the world," said IDBF President Mike Haslam in a statement.

The Big Question: Which is the stronger Team?

If there were hundreds of thousands of people who cheered for the team worldwide, critics who refused to recognize that extraordinary feat made some irritating noise.

"Their opponents were weaklings," said one remark posted on s Dragon Boat Facebook page.

"Ampao ang mga iyan," came another sarcastic remark from a sports official that became viral in the social media. He later explained his side when he received hundreds of 'hate messages' from adoring Filipinos who supported the 'underdog' team.

When the so-called 'ex-Nationals started playing for their home teams, some of the Navy-dominated PCKF athletes claimed that the strongest paddlers are with them. 

For us in the military, 'self-admiration' is quite normal. We are trained to be proud of our respective organizations and even down to the smallest unit. 

When you enter the Marine Barracks, you must not be surprised to hear soldiers say, "The Marines is the best!"

Normally, when you are in lair of the Scout Rangers in Camp Tecson, expect to hear: "The Scout Rangers are the elite and the best special operators in the country!".

Anyway, let's take a look why the Navy is taking pride of its own achievements. 

They won more than 10 Championship Trophies in the PCKF-administered races since 2011; and, they were also part of the International Canoe Federation version of the World Dragon Boat Championships in Italy during which the Philippine Team brought home several gold medals which made our country proud as well. 

Meanwhile, the Army has dominated the local Dragon Boat Regattas ran by the PDBF. It had also captured Gold Medals during its first two forays abroad (Malaysia and Indonesia). 

It was only in 2013 when the Army met some challenge from a rising Bicol Dragon, the Team Lake Buhi which had outraced both the Navy and the Army in the past. Look at that! Nasipa ang astig at maskuladong paddlers ng Army at Navy?

Staying humble, we merely waited for the time that the two strongest teams will cross paths again in the same race site, and probably displaying its class in trying to out-paddle the strong challenger, Lake Buhi. 

Well, we all knew that the matter could only be settled through an actual race. I was really waiting for the time that the Army and the Navy will come loggerheads in an actual race. Magkakaalaman na talaga.

War of the Dragons: The Dream Match

It took only one man to stage the much-awaited 'Dream Match' in the island of Bohol. No, he was neither Bob Arum nor Oscar "The Golden Boy" Dela Hoya.

Our unexpected match-maker was Major General Charly Holganza, a retired officer of the Armed Forces of the Philippines who once headed the National Development Support Command. He was the lead organizer of the first ever Cobra-PDBF International Dragon Boat Festival in Bohol.

Aside from luring more tourists for his beloved province, Sir Charly was more than eager to see the 'Battle of the Champions' right in turf once lorded by Dagohoy. 

Through his connections in the military bureaucracy, he was able to bring together four of the top performing teams in the country today (Army, Navy, Coast Guard and Team Lake Buhi). Clap! Clap! Clap!

Along with the other contenders, these 'Top Seeded Teams' came to Bohol eyeing for the Gold in the various events. 

There were 9 Championship Trophies for each separate events including the Standard Boat event (2,000m/500m/200m), 200m Small Boat event. There were separate races for the 'Open' category and the 'Mixed' (mixed men and women crew) category. 

Because we didn't have female paddlers this time, we participated only in the Standard Boat events such as the 2,000m, 500m, 200m.  Smart Communications, one of the corporate sponsors also staged a special event called Smart Live More 200m Small Boat Open.

It was a three-way grab for the Gold Medals by the Philippine Coast Guard, Team Lake Buhi and Triton in the Mixed Events.

The following are the final results of the events that Team Army participated:

a. Smart Live More 200m Small Boat Open (10 paddlers)
     1. Army – 50.36secs
     2. Navy – 50.63secs
     3. Lake Buhi – 51.87 secs

*** Team Army and Team Navy fielded their strongest athletes  who used to paddle together as part of the National Team before the break-up in 2010. It was the true 'Battle of the Champions'. 
b. 200m Standard Open
    1. Army – 41.27secs
    2. Lake Buhi – 43.32 secs
    3. Navy – 44.37 secs
    4. Bohol Paddlers – 54.06secs
c. 2,000m Standard Boat Open
    1. Lake Buhi – 9:13.48

    2. Army – 9:33.11

    3. Navy – 9:48.81

    4. Onslaught – 10:03.07

**We questioned the erroneous time records in this particular event. To learn about this, please click this link
d.  500m Standard Open
     1. Team Buhi--1min, 56.42secs
     2. Army--1min,57.26secs
     3. Coast Guard-1 min, 57.90 secs

**The Army posted the fastest time of 1:55.78 against 1:56.45 of Team Buhi and the Navy's 1:57.04 during the semi-final heat

What was our score then? It was 2 Golds-2 Silvers in the four events that we participated. Not bad, huh?
This is the video presentation of our team's performance. I took the footage that was taken by my Go Pro Camera that was worn by the Drummer and also my own video that was taken from the pavilion. (I could not use the low-visibility video of the 200m finals which was culminated at around 6pm)


The Army paddlers had proven to be the men to watch in the local Dragon Boat races. 

They ruled the 200m sprint events in a similar fashion when they were part of the National Team and the Pinoy Dragon Warriors.

Based on the results and the video footage in the finish line (aside from the testimonies of the spectators), we achieved our ultimate aim: Beat Navy! Sorry brothers, better luck next time!

We are proud to have the strongest Dragon Boat paddlers and the bragging rights as the 'Fastest Boat Crew in the Philippines"

But, what will make us prouder? 

We must be happier if we can bring back these finest paddlers in the same boat against a common adversary during the future Olympics that will include Dragon Boat races! 

Let me say it is a dream. Well, some dreams come true anyway. 

Let's wait and see. 

Go Army! Salute!

Go Philippines!


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