A Humbling Hungary Experience

Two silver and two bronze medals for the Cobra-PDBF Team that waged war in the waters of Hungary. A letdown to some, it seems. After all, the Team had brought home 5 gold medals in the previous World Championships in Tampa last 2011. But no, the Philippine Team comes home bloodied, but unbowed. Despite the lack of support from the POC, despite being a last-minute entry to the Games, despite competing with an incomplete line-up, we showed the world that we have what it takes to pit paddles with the rest of them. And our peerless paddlers will come home far better and wiser, if only for the experience they acquired. And armed with the friendships developed with the international dragon boating community.

Unlike in Tampa where fund constraints had forced our team to compete only in the small boat events (10-paddlers/team), the team this time competed with a slightly larger crew. Thus, the Cobra-PDBF Team went to Hungary ready to paddle in the premiere category, where the best of the best were weighing in. Our team would once again be among the elite in the standard (20-paddlers/team) events in the open and mixed categories. In the women’s bracket however, we opted for the small boat crew.

In all, there were a total of 300 races in the following gender brackets: open, women’s, mixed; in the following distances: 200 (sprints), 500 (middle distance), 1000, 2000 meters (long distance); in the following age brackets: premiere, seniors A, seniors B, seniors C, juniors A, juniors B, under-24; and in the following boat types: standard (20 paddlers) and small boat (10 paddlers).

With the number of events contested, it was normal for contingents to send in as much as 400 paddlers. For in a highly competitive match such as the World Championship, specialization is always the name of the game. Simply put, your sprint paddlers are not expected to shine in the middle distance or long distance races in much the same manner that a track sprint champion like Usain Bolt is not expected to win against the thinner long distance runners for the endurance-sapping marathon.  Thus, the fact that our motley crew figured in the finals in all the events they competed in is already a commendable achievement. Our paddlers competed in 10 events, all in the premiere category, and they produced the following results:

Premiere Open standard 2000 meters – 7th place (reached Finals)

Premiere Mixed standard 2000 meters – 8th place (reached Finals)

Premiere Open standard 1000 meters – 4th place (missed bronze by .10 sec!)

Premiere Mixed standard 1000 meters – 4th place (missed bronze by .13 sec!)

Premiere Open standard 500 meters – 5th place (reached Finals)

Premiere Mixed standard 500 meters – 2nd place (missed gold by .64 sec) 

Premiere Women’s small boat 500 meters – 3rd place (missed silver by .27 sec)

Premiere Open standard 200 meters – 4th place (missed bronze by .04 sec!)

Premiere Mixed standard 200 meters – 3rd place (missed silver by .45 sec)  

Premiere Women’s small boat 200 meters – 2nd place (missed gold by 1.14 sec)

We accept having lost to the better prepared, more-focused teams of Canada, China, and the rest. But our paddlers did their darndest best. And I look up to them as heroes, every single one of them. Inspite the many challenges and constraints our paddlers had to face, they were right there with the eventual winners down to the very finish. China and Canada were the constant fixtures in the finals. But not far behind these heavyweights were the paddlers from the USA, Germany and the Philippines. We have re-established our place among the best paddlers in the world. And given the proper moral and logistical support, our team will certainly shine in the international arenas.

I also would like to give special mention to those who worked out of the spotlight to whom we owe our highest gratitude. The PDBF leadership – led by Prez Marcia Cristobal and SecGen Pinky Castillo, who despite all odds, persevered in sending our team to Hungary. And our sponsors, led by Cobra and the MVP group of companies, who continue to inspire this team onward. The PDBF would also like to thank the Filipino community in Hungary, led by Ambassador Eleanor Jaucian, for having supported the team in so many ways.

That episode in Hungary was not a loss.  Rather, it has granted our paddlers poignant lessons, and a chance at rebirth.  They will surely rise again; stronger, more united, more focused. Hungary was indeed humbling. But it will also serve as an inspiration to the legions of upcoming Filipino paddlers eager to make our country proud. That and the experience of building friendships across the globe should provide enough motivation for us all.

“The World Championship in Szeged, Hungary may be over, but the spirit of the dragon will continue to live in our hearts. Nations may compete against nations, and battle to the death for the flag, but the love and friendship enveloping the dragon boat community is very palpable, it seems surreal.” From PDBF SecGen Pinky Castillo.

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