Sunday, 18 September 2011

Enter the Dragons

Posted by chardyboy on Sunday, September 18, 2011 0 comments

by Joba Botana

Before they were called the Cobra Dragon Warriors and wowed the world by garnering five golds and two silvers in the recently held 2011 International Dragon Boat Federation (IDBF) World Dragon Boat Championship in Tampa, Florida, they were known as the Philippine Dragon Boat team. As the country’s national dragon boat team, they have won countless medals and trophies in international competitions—from Southeast Asian Games, Asian Games and International Open competitions among many others—earning them respect and recognition from opponent teams all over the world.

Looking back

The members of the Philippine Dragon Boat men and women’s teams come from different regions in the country--some as far as Western Visayas and Mindanao. Perhaps theirs is a ‘from rags to riches story’ as like most athletes including the world’s boxing champ, Manny Pacquiao, who once dreamed of having better live and future through excellence in sports. Because of hard work (and I mean really hard work), determination, discipline and support (of all sorts), they have achieved their goal—to become the country’s pride and an inspiration to many aspiring athletes all over the world.
Through the years of bearing the Philippine flag and winning golds left and right in international competitions, the team has also been setting records in different competitions and breaking them off in another competition. Indeed, some would say that they are like super humans. In fact, some even accuse them of taking illegal drugs to enhance their strength. But if you witnessed their rigorous training several times a day, just as I had since 2004, you will not wonder how and why they continuously reap gold after gold medal in every competition. They are, indeed, an epitome of true athletes that instead of fearing them, their competitors openly admit admiration for them, sealing friendship with opponent teams from all over the globe.

A glimpse of their ordinary day

Here is what I personally know about the team. As a former athlete under the training pool of Philippine Sports Commission back in 2004, I was housed together with the national athletes at the Rizal Memorial Stadium. Every morning during training (which starts before 5a.m.), I would witness how they do their warm up training at the track in an organized and synchronized manner. To spectators, they were beautiful to look at, what with the same built, height and skin color as well as training uniform. After 15-laps or so around the ovals, they would do their drills, which include exercises, calisthenics and timed sprints before proceeding to the gym for weight training or having a quick breakfast before going to Roxas Boulevard (Manila Bay) for their proper training that lasts for about three to five hours. Then after lunch they go back to the gym and in the afternoon, they train again. A head’s up to those who wish to be admitted:
“The try-out is physically and emotionally straining but that’s nothing compared to their daily workout and training,” says the Dragon Warrior’s head coach and technical director of Philippine Dragon Boat Federation, Nestor Ilagan.

Clearing the air

Before coming home with several laurels from the championship in Tampa, there was a faction in the original team. Ilagan related how the team was trimmed down to 14 instead of the normal 24-person, in a one-on-one interview. According to him, the Philippine Olympic Committee wanted the team to shift to and become the Philippine Olympic Rowing Team.
“We didn’t want to train for the Olympic rowing because for many years—since we founded the Philippine Dragon Boat Federation in late 80s, we have been training the discipline of dragon boat—not rowing or kayak. Our team is a member of the International Dragon Boat Federation so, whether or not recognized by the Philippine Olympic Committee and the Philippine Sports Commission, we can still compete in IDBF-recognized of organized games,” he says.
“The team was given an option: those who did not want to be under the Olympic rowing team can no longer stay at the athlete’s quarters. They will not receive any allowance from PSC and they are not allowed to train at the Manila Bay. The boats and paddles were also returned to PSC. Those who wanted to train for the Olympic rowing, on the other hand, are still entitled to these privileges.”
“Apparently, some of the athlete’s have nowhere else to go and we, the officials, cannot afford to shoulder them all. So they had no choice but to stay behind, albeit reluctantly. The faction happened ‘with no hard feelings’ between the members who stayed and those who are now known as the Dragon Warriors. I told them (Philippine Rowing Team) that if everything turns alright again, they can always go back to the team—to us,” he shares.

In the spotlight

With the help of their major sponsors—Cobra, Philippine Airlines, ABS-CBN as well as the kind hearted individuals and organizations here and abroad who supported them financially—the 14-strong team was able to bring home five gold medals for (1,000 meter men's category, 500m. men's category, 200m men's category, 500m mixed category, 200m mixed category, and two silvers for 500m newcomer mixed category and 200m newcomer mixed category).
"We set a new record for the small boat categories and we’re also glad that no team who competed for the 24-team categories were able to break our best time records in Prague (2009). All of that plus good side stories including sponsored Busch Garden tour , lavish meals, packed goodies and pasalubong for each member and overwhelming support from foreign supporters and Filipinos in the US (some of whom drove four-hour straight just to see the team).
“Those side stories were the best ones to be remembered, aside from winning golds in the competition. Until now, when we recall it, we still can’t believe the utmost support and the warm reception they gave us in Tampa. And we appreciate the US Dragon Boat team for waiving off the fee for the hotel rooms we stayed at, as well as the other contenders who were so nice to us. Those gestures were priceless,” says Ilagan.

Being compared to Philippine Azkals

You’ve probably heard some stories comparing the Philippine Soccer Team ‘Azkals’ to the Dragon Warriors. Obviously, the two teams are poles apart. First, the Dragon Warriors is a composed of men and women most of whom are members of the Philippine Army (so if you say the Dragon Warriors, you’re referring to both men and women) who have been reaping golds way before the Azkals came on the spotlight (or before the Younghusband brothers joined the national football team, for that matter). Second, why would you compare guys like Phil, James, Alexander Borromeo, Neil Etheridge to men like Usman Anterola, Cresanto Pabulayan, Perlito Idorot, Ruperto Sabijon and Suhod Hakim, who are, yeah, probably much older? Third, aside from joining competitions, the Dragon Warriors also organize international open dragon boat competitions, one of which is annually held in Boracay every October. The Azkals, particularly the Younghusband brothers, founded a school for kids who want to learn football and organize games with a cause. Perhaps there a lot more reasons why we should not compare the two teams but let me cite this last bit: the Dragon Warriors (yes, both men and women) got our attention not because of their looks but their prowess. Perhaps, instead of comparing the two, let us just give our all-out support to the teams as they both represent our country in international competitions and are Filipinos’ pride.

During the onslaught of typhoon Ondoy in 2009, the Philippine Dragon Boat Men and Women’s team volunteered to distribute relief goods and evacuate the victims to safer grounds using their dragon boats.


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