Pemberton’s paddlers who headed over to the world championships of dragon boat racing said beforehand that they’d have to keep an eye on some strong European crews. As it turned out, the Canadians were the ones everyone had to watch out for.
Local athletes helped the Canadian national team crews to the top of the medal table at the International Dragon Boat Federation’s World Nations Championships, as Canada collected 30 gold medals and 51 in total over five days of standard boat competition that wrapped up Sunday (July 28) in Szeged, Hungary. The crews earned several more in small boat races, which featured 10-person teams instead of the regular 20.
“Canada really took it by storm this year,” Liam Miller said Tuesday (July 30) after returning home to Pemberton. “It was pretty sweet.”
The eight Pemberton Canoe Club athletes who travelled to Hungary to compete each came away with a huge medal haul. Some collected double-digits worth of hardware, such as Kayla Spencer, who captured an incredible 12 gold medals at the very least.
With many of the athletes yet to return home to Canada and rotating crew rosters throughout the event, it was difficult to confirm exactly which Pemberton paddlers earned what medals in Hungary. But all are able to now call themselves world champions, having each earned at least one gold medal.
“Our mixed boats generally just got gold every time, our open crews got a lot of golds and our all-female crews got a lot of golds,” said Miller, who went to a dragon boat world championships for the first time.
Returning with two gold and four silver medals, Miller said he was impressed by the level of competition over in Hungary, since he’s usually used to racing with the dominant Laoyam Eagles junior team close to home.
“It was definitely eye-opening to finally see some (strong) crews, because I’ve only ever seen high school crews from around the area,” he said. “These crews were wicked.”
But the Canadian crews were pretty wicked as well. Fellow Pemberton junior-aged racers Aleea Dahinden, Tachona Jones, Lauren Phare, Isabel Peters and Dayna Goochey reportedly each earned at least three gold medals apiece. Senior-aged Pemberton paddler Bill McLeod also appeared to win one medal of each colour in his races with Canadian teams.
Miller said he was inspired to reach the podium after seeing some of the girls’ teams collect medals on the first day of competition. To become a world champion alongside others that he’s grown up paddling with was a big highlight, he added.
“I thought, ‘OK, they’re officially the best in the world at something, and I need to do that, too,’” said Miller.
The Canadian teams were assembled by mixing the Pemberton athletes with other paddlers based in Ontario. The teams had just a few days of training together before travelling to compete in Hungary, and after making some adjustments to match the stroke style used by the Ontarians, Miller said the crews meshed well.
“They had a way different stroke than we have here,” he said. “We have a quicker stroke with more rotation, they have a long, slow, powerful stroke. I’d definitely say I like some things about our stroke more … but their stroke definitely has its own merit.”
Miller said the experience of racing in Hungary was a neat one, but a huge highlight came in getting share the title of ‘world champions’ alongside others he’s grown up paddling with.
“It was awesome to look down the podium and see people that I’ve known for my entire life, as well as people that I’d known for a week,” he said. “But all of those people, I knew they were all the people that deserved to be there.”