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Eagles on top once again

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The Pemberton Laoyam Eagles dragon boat team returned to False Creek and the Alcan Dragon Boat Festival last weekend to defend the title, which they have held for the past two years.

The Eagles team, which is made up of older high school students, were joined this year by the Laoyam Falcons, a team made up of mostly new paddlers from Grade 7 to 11.

The Eagles finished first overall in the Junior A category and then went on to finish first overall in Recreation A against co-ed adult teams. They won that close race by 0.5 seconds, with three other boats finishing within a second of their time.

In the first Junior heat the Eagles blew away the competition by paddling the 500 metre course in two minutes 3.63 seconds, almost seven seconds faster than the next team.

In their next race, this time in the Recreational division, they finished first again, in 2:20.45 – almost 15 seconds faster than the next best team. The Eagles – Canadian champions and second in the world in last year’s world championships – have raced in the Recreational category before, finishing second last year by a fraction of a second.

In the Junior semi-final, the Eagles finished first once again, six seconds faster than the Layoam Falcons, which was the next best team, with times of 2:14.07 and 2:19.74 respectively.

That put both the Eagles and the Falcons in the finals along with the Franklin Aquarockets and SunDragons from Portland, Oregon. The SunDragons represented the U.S. at the world championships last year.

That afternoon Eagles then went on to win their Recreational Quarter Final heat in 2:09.52, seven seconds faster than the next team.

They raced four times on Saturday, winning each heat by an average of eight seconds.

On the following day, the Eagles destroyed the competition in the Junior Championship final with a time of 2:07.22. The Franklin Aquarockets were second in 2:10.95, the SunDragons third in 2:23.59, and the Falcons fourth in 2:14.15.

A few hours later the Eagles were back in the boat, racing in the Recreation Division A Semi Final. They won that race in 2:05.34, more than two seconds faster than the next team.

In the finals, their time of 2:10.12 was good enough for first place overall against the adults.

"They just did very well," said Tamsin Miller, an organizer with the team. "The Eagles won every race they were in. Last year they were second by less than a second, and this year they were first by half a second. They were racing against adults, but they never seemed like they were intimidated."

For the last two races in the recreational category, Laoyam Eagles founder and coach Dr. Hugh Fisher joined the team in the boat. Some of the paddlers had been with him for five seasons and have graduated from high school.

"He’s known them all of their high school lives, so I think the team got a real kick out of racing with Hugh," said Miller. "They paddled really hard, and just enjoyed those racers. It’s the end of an era for a lot of them, although I’m sure most of these kids will be paddlers their whole lives."

The Falcons finished fourth in the Junior A category out of nine teams, which was excellent considering that many of the paddlers have never raced competitively. They almost beat a strong steam from Portland that went to the world championships with the Eagles last season.

More than 50 Pemberton kids took part in the festival, racing in teams of 22. A team includes 20 paddlers, one drummer and one person steering.

The Eagles are hoping to go to Shanhai, China, for the next World Dragon Boat Championships in the summer of 2003.

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