By Andrew Mitchell
Students from Pemberton and Mount Currie maintained their paddling dominance at the 2007 Alcan Dragon Boat Festival in False Creek this past weekend, holding off their strongest challenge yet to retain the high school title for the ninth straight year.
“It was literally a photo finish, just 0.24 seconds between our team and the Lincoln Mustangs from San Francisco,” said coach Dr. Hugh Fisher. “The Mustangs have been gunning for the Eagles for five years now, and our guys came out ahead after a really tight race where they came from behind.”
According to Dr. Fisher, the Layoam Eagles had the best start in the finals, but the stronger Mustangs were two to three metres ahead by the halfway point at 250 metres. The Eagles did a pick-up stroke to close the distance, and managed to pull ahead at the finish.
A team includes 20 paddlers, a steerer and a drummer to keep time. Unlike the Mustangs, where the majority of paddlers were in Grade 12, the Eagles ranged from Grades 8 to 12 and had a few rookie paddlers in the boat. It was enough to get the job done.
“It’s a really good group,” said Dr. Fisher. “We lost some powerful girls last year to graduation, and filled their spots with some girls from our Falcons (development) team from last year, and they really rose to the occasion. We had a few new kids from Grade 8 come on board, including the youngest sister of one of our top paddlers, and all the guys we had were really excited about this year.”
The Eagles were less dominating in the qualifiers, quarter-finals and semi-finals than in the past, and were three seconds back of the Mustangs in the semi-finals. Although it appeared as if the Eagles had met their match, Dr. Fisher said it was helpful to come into a race as the underdog.
“It’s easy to get a little complacent and cocky as a crew that wins all the time, and we definitely weren’t that heading into the finals,” he said. “Our guys were probably faster than last year, but the level of competition was really a lot higher. The Mustangs have been coming to this event since 2001, and gaining on us every year — I think they were third or fourth their first year — and have really been studying us while getting their own program in shape. A lot of other schools have also stepped it up a notch, so we had to be that much better.”
The local development team, the Layoam Falcons, had a solid day by finishing third in the qualifiers. Unfortunately they found themselves beside the Eagles in the final, and were washed out at the start. Their boat then had some control issues to overcome, but still managed to finish fifth.