Sunday, December 12, 2010

A boat that attracts people from all walks of life

Matheos Viktor Messakh, The Jakarta Post, Guangzhou, China | Sun, 11/21/2010 2:40 PM | Sports
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While many professional athletes struggle to find their way into the limelight at international multi-event sporting competitions, such as the current Guangzhou Asian Games, teams of fantastic amateur boat racers are now unable to avoid publicity.

Civil servants, police officers, soldiers, nurses, firemen, fishermen, housewives, teachers and students all joined the colorful Asian Games dragon boat race competition, which made its Asiad debut on Tuesday.

Indonesian policeman Silo said he has had no difficulties joining the national team because his superiors were supportive and granted him training leave.

“If there is no training camp, I am a police officer as usual, and there is no special treatment for me,” said the 25-year-old first brigadier officer who works as a training instructor in Central Kalimantan.

“But I’m very grateful because my superiors support me, and they will have no objection if there is a call for me from the National Sports Council [KONI].”

For Silo, dragon boat racing has the same principles as police work. “Its like a police brigade, one for all and all for one,” Silo said.

The Indonesian men’s team consists of policemen, a marine, several civil servants and university students. Sixteen of the 22-strong squad are new members, while the rest are members of the previous team that competed in several Southeast Asian (SEA) Games and the Bali Asian Beach Games.

Silo’s teammate, civil servant Didin Rusdiana, said he discovered dragon boat racing by accident when university students from Jakarta came to train in his home town near Bandung a few years back. He was hoping that his dragon boat racing efforts would help the new Asian Games sport gain global exposure as it chases a berth in the Olympics.

Japan’s men’s dragon boat team consists of staff from Uohashi Hospital in Aioi, and despite borrowing boats to train and only hitting the water once or twice a month, there is nothing amateur about this crew’s mindset when it comes to competition.

“Our team is all nurses, and in most people’s eyes seems to be weaker than athletes from other teams,” captain Takamasa Matsuno told the Asiad News service.

The Japanese nurses finished first in the 500-meter minor final for a ranking of seventh, and second in the 1,000-meter minor final to take eighth in the event.

The squad is a member of a 10-year-old dragon boat club that won a third straight national open championship in July to qualify for Guangzhou.

Takamasa said they told their patients that they were planning on competing in the Asiad. “They were very supportive and cheered for me. My boss also supported me, so I was able to train indoors in the morning and evenings.”

The Macao team has another dragon boat story. The team is made up of firemen.

“Even many of full-time athletes didn’t get the chance to come here, but we made it. I really feel very lucky,” 31-year-old Macao fireman Chang Wa Ieng told the Asiad Daily, the China Daily supplement for Asian Games.

Chou Pi-Chieh, a 29-year-old high school teacher from Chinese Taipei, whose team competed for the first time, said most of his teammates were students, most in college and some still in high school.

“We broke a paddle during the heat and didn’t have a reserve in the boat, and a lot of our rowers are young and lack experience at such a high-profile event. We can do a lot better,” Pi-Chieh said.

Dragon boat racing, which has its ancient roots in southern China, was added to the Asian program along with kabbadi, sepaktakraw, wushu and the traditional Asian board game of go (weiqi).

Dragon boat racing was revived as a competitive sport in 1976 in Hong Kong. It has been contested worldwide since the International Dragon Boat Federation was formed in 1991.

For the 2014 Incheon program, the Incheon organizers have proposed baseball, bowling, kabaddi, sepaktakraw, softball and squash.

The Olympic Council of Asia would like to see cricket included due to high spectator interest and TV ratings, and karate because of its Asian roots and global popularity. The decision will be made during the next executive board meeting in Muscat, Oman.

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