Philippine Dragon Boat team breathes fire, strikes gold
TAMPA, Florida—Inspired by the clean waters and the support of the Filipino community, the Cobra Philippine Dragon Boat Team snared its first of five gold medal prospects Friday in the World Championships at the Seddon Channel here.
The small contingent, sent to the competitions in the last minute after managing to scrounge support from the private sector, claimed the men’s small-boat 1,000 meters in world record fashion, beating Australia and Hungary for the title.
The Filipinos’ clocked a world record of 4:57.13 to claim the gold. Australia won the silver medal (5:00.09), while Hungary captured the bronze (5:03.71) in the biennial meet.
It was first time small boat events were included in the biennial event, and the Philippines is making do in the category after the lack of support from the Philippine Olympic Committee and the Philippine Sports Commission blew out the country’s hopes of defending its 2007 and 2009 world titles in the standard boat division.
The 12-man squad was bannered by drummer Annabelle Pario and steer Ruperto Sabijon.
Hungary claimed the standard men’s, besting the United States and Germany with a time of three minutes and 48.32 seconds.
PH paddler Michelle Evio said the Cobra squad is trying to win as many as five gold medals in the biennial meet and the first gold in the 1,000m gave them momentum for that goal.
“We trained under the same weather and on the same placid water conditions,” Evio said, referring to the team’s regular practices at Manila Bay back home. “But I guess we got inspired because there are no garbage here.”
Evio said they feel at home with the humid conditions in Tampa Bay which mimics their regular training feel in the Philippines.
The PH paddlers will still compete in the mixed and open 200m and 500m in the coming days.
The Cobra squad, also supported by Philippine Airlines, nearly failed to make it to the event because of lack of finances and weren’t able to practice for the small boats category before competing here. Making the gold even more impressive was the fact that the rowers only managed to test the small boats when they reached the competition site.
Still, the squad managed to make the necessary adjustments in their rowing stroke to shave off precious seconds from their time on the way to the victory.
A Manila television station sent here to report on the team’s participation here was told by officials of the International Dragon Boat Federation, who also passed the hat to pay for the Filipino paddlers’ housing, that the event couldn’t afford not to have the two-time world champions in the competition because “it would be like not having Brazil in the World Cup of football.”
Virtually abandoned by sports officials back home, the rowers competed here in front of a loud crowd of Filipino-Americans who also contributed their time and effort to feed the athletes. The Filipino audience cheered wildly as the squad flew off the starting blocks, cutting seamlessly through the water to complete a wire-to-wire performance.
Marcia Cristobal, Cobra PDBF president, immediately sent an SMS to Asia Brewery assistant vice president for marketing Mike Ngo, who pooled the funds that allowed to send the ddragon boat squad to send a skeleton crew to the Worlds, about the victory and Ngo immediately sent his message of congratulations aside from wishing the team luck in the coming days.
PAL vice president for corporate communications Joey de Guzman, meanwhile, also lauded the squad, saying “congratulations to the Philippine Dragon Boat Team for raising the Philippine flag in Florida, USA.”
Also praising the team was PAL assistant vice president for advertising and promotions Jess Garcia.
“Congratulations to our Philippine team who have once again surpassed expectations and who make us proud,” said Garcia.