Foreign participants in this year’s Taipei International Dragon Boat Championship were excited on Sunday to be competing in the annual dragon boat festivities in Taiwan this year, even if the races did not always go their way.
“It’s wonderful. Everybody is so excited. Everybody is up,” said Shai Gandelsman, head of the Haifa Lions, a 22-member team from Israel.
The Lions were the first Israeli team to compete in the race in Taipei, but some of the team’s members had taken part in dragon boat races in Greater Kaohsiung over the past two years, Gandelsman said.
Despite its enthusiasm, the Israeli team finished second among three teams in a preliminary round race and failed to advance to the next round of the competition slated for tomorrow, the day of the Dragon Boat Festival.
Though the team was disappointed, the rowers were confident they would perform better when returning next year.
“Next year, we’ll take first place,” Gandelsman said, adding that this year’s team was not as prepared as it wanted to be.
It practiced only once, for about an hour-and-a-half, in Israel before arriving in Taiwan on Friday, and it was unable to practice at the race’s venue, Dajia Riverside Park in Taipei, before Sunday’s competition.
The Israeli team ranged in age from 15 to 66, said Gandelsman, an engineer, and its members included students, engineers and teachers.
Officials and staff from the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) fielded a team that was well prepared for this year’s race.
The team trained every Saturday for about two hours over the past couple of months, said AIT spokesman Mark Zimmer, a first-time participant.
Paddling the boat “is a challenge,” Zimmer said, as the team was getting ready for its race.
“Coordination is key and we worked on that,” he added.
Elizabeth Liu, an AIT consular officer, said she was “excited” about the race.
“We’re ready to win,” said Liu, who was the AIT boat’s flag catcher, and she took the flag at the finish line when the team won its preliminary round race against three other boats.
Other foreign participants included a team from Germany and a team of international students from National Taiwan Normal University’s Mandarin Training Center
A total of 234 teams registered to compete in this year’s Taipei dragon boat championship, which will conclude tomorrow, organizers said.
The Dragon Boat Festival is one of three major festivals in Taiwan and is a public holiday.
It takes place on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar, which this year falls tomorrow.
During the festival, dragon boat races are held across the nation to commemorate Qu Yuan (屈原), a Chinese poet and minister in the state of Chu during the Warring States Period more than 2,000 years ago.
When the state of Qin conquered Chu, the poet committed suicide in despair. He drowned himself in a river and legend has it that a crowd gathered and beat the water with paddles to keep fish from eating Qu’s body — the origin of today’s dragon boat races.