Sports Unlimited: PH Dragonboat team and Marc’s Cuba Adventure

By Jasmine Perez, Multimedia producer, Sports Unlimited

Posted at Aug 25 2011 07:44 PM | Updated as of Aug 30 2011 07:01 PM

Five gold and two silver medals were all brought home to Philippine shores by one team-- The Philippine Dragon Boat Federation Team. This band of world-class paddlers hauled medals from the 10th International Dragon Boat Federation World Championships held in Tampa Bay, Florida. 

This gold loot marked the most successful world championships campaign of the Philippines ever since it started joining the most prestigious event in dragon boat racing.

The IDBF World Championships is a biennial event, which gathers the world's best paddlers around the globe. Two thousand paddlers representing seventeen countries came to the competition. National teams from China, USA, Canada, Germany, Russia, Australia, Hungary, Italy and the Philippines, just to name a few, came to battle for the title of the world's best.

No less than the Philippines is known to be the fastest crew in the planet, holding two world records in the standard boat, the premiere men's open and the mixed division.

Team PDBF flew to Tampa ready to blaze the trail in the small boat division, which was introduced this year to the world championships for the first time. Our Pinoy paddlers have already won gold medals in this division in the prestigious 2008 Asian Championships and they came to Tampa ready to be crowned world champs once again.

The small boat division is composed of ten paddlers, one drummer and one steersman while the standard boat is composed of twenty paddlers with one drummer and a steersman. The Philippines was only able to send a crew for the small boat after sports politics almost jeopardized the team's participation in the world championships. Fueled by the support of the private sector and driven by their desire to win honor for the country, the team came to Tampa ready to fight.

What they were not ready for was the love and support our kababayans in Tampa Bay gave to our athletes. Team PDBF was one of the smallest contingent in the championships but the Pinoy number swelled when our kababayans, after learning of the team's arrival on The Filipino Channel, trooped to the opening ceremonies to give their support.

It was heartwarming to see complete strangers ready to assist their fellow Filipinos. It didn't matter that they know not what this team was capable of accomplishing. All they know was that they were Pinoys simply in need of a helping hand. That same night, they sent drinks and food to the hotel. The next day, team PDBF returned their kindness with gold, the first of many to come!

Day 1 of competition for the Philippine Dragon Boat Federation team was the 1000-meter event. Our Pinoy paddlers are known to be the sprint kings of dragon boat. They have never won gold in the longer distances but that day proved to be a golden start.

A small band of Pinoys came to cheer on Team PDBF after learning of their participation in the 10th IDBF World Championships. They came to bring drinks and food for the athletes. They simply helped because they wanted to give their fellow Filipinos a hand. Little did they know that they were about to witness Pinoy greatness number 1 in action!

In the 1000-meter event, the team’s times in two heats will be combined to determine who wins the competition. Our Pinoy dragon warriors made it to the finish line of round one with a commanding lead to the cheers of the Pinoys who witnessed our team in action for the first time. They were in awe and in sweet inspiring shock to realize that we can dominate in a sport where our opponents are much taller and bigger than our Pinoy crew. Team Philippines registered a time of 4:59 while Australia came in second with a time of 5:02, followed by Hungary with 5:09, Italy with 5:14 and Trinidad and Tobago with 5:16.

In round two, the Philippines once again dominated from start to finish. Paddling amidst the cheers of the small band of Pinoys who are now hooked to our Dragon Warriors, Team PDBF sealed the win for their first world title in the small boat division. This also marked the first title of the Philippines in a long distance event.

With their first win, the crew did not only get the gold but also won the hearts of their kababayans in Tampa Bay. Back in the hotel, they were flooded with food. Pinoy nurses, therapists and other professionals provided much needed Pinoy comfort food. Bayahihan was at its finest!

Day 2 was the much-awaited 200-meter event. This is what the whole paddling world wanted to see-- the Pinoy sprint kings in awesome action. The premiere small boat mixed division saw our female paddlers in action. The Philippines, world champions in this race distance in the standard boat event, came to win in the same fashion they did in Prague Czech Republic in 2009. They simply dominated the competition, winning over Italy, Trinidad and Tobago and Puerto Rico in all their heats.

It was gold after gold for our Pinoy Dragon Warriors as they continued their rampage in the 10th International Dragon Boat Federation World Championships. The team that has gone through so many obstacles just to get in Tampa did not only sail through but made their dragons fly ahead of the competition.

They dominated each event-- the 500-meter premiere open, the 500-meter mixed and the 200-meter events.

Paddling with only two reserves and fighting jet lag, their desire to win and bring honor to the country has caught the imagination of a nation hungry for heroes. Our Dragon Warriors has put our flag on top of the rest!

The Dragon Warriors' uniform was a hot item too. Everyone was just eager to wear something that has "Philippines" on it. Everyone, especially the young Fil-Americans, were proud to announce that they take pride in being Pinoy.

One of the Tampa campaign's most memorable moment was the last awarding ceremony. Pinoys from different states like New Jersey, Miami and Texas drove all the way to Tampa to see our national prides. The voices of Pinoys resounded in the Tampa Convention Center as they sang our national anthem. Our flag was raised high above the rest, showing to the world once again that with unity, we can achieve greatness!

Marc’s Cuba Adventure

From the tropical paradise of the British Virgin Islands to the adventure mecca of the Dominican Republic, Marc chose another kind of thrill for his final Caribbean stop. This time, he traveled back in the past in classic Cuba.

The largest and the most populous island nation in the Caribbean, Cuba is known in the world for its rich culture and tradition. Take a walk in Habana Sentro and Habana Viejo and you’ll not only appreciate Cuba’s old architecture but you can also get a glimpse of the Cubans’ lifestyle.

For Marc, the best way to wander around its capital Havana is through Cuba’s iconic taxis. These cars spell classic. From its stylish exteriors to its vintage interiors, traveling around with this one-of-a-kind taxi is like traveling back in the 50’s minus the Cuban revolution.

You’ll never run out of places to see when you’re in Havana. Each street has a distinct story to tell or sometimes, exciting sports action to witness, like street soccer and baseball along its narrow alleyways.

For outdoor lovers, you can take a 30-minute ride outside Havana and enjoy Cuba’s rich marine life in a place called Barcelo. There is too much diversity underwater. You can even get lucky and spot a scorpion fish, a puffer fish and a stonefish.

Aside from snorkeling, you can also go sunbathing in Cuba’s famous Santa Maria Beach. The sun is very hot but it didn’t stop beach lovers like Marc from relishing the white sand and blue waters. This place is indeed The Caribbean!

If you’re not the outdoor type, you can get more fills of Cuba’s rustic charm just by hanging out in one of Cuba’s timeless restos, where a band performs live jazz music.

If you want to get a taste of the original mojito, stop by La Bodeguita del Medio, or pub in the middle of the street. Bodeguita has become famous not only because it was the favorite hangout of famous personalities like Ernest Hemingway and Nat King Cole, but this is also the birthplace of mojito. When you stop by this bar, you just don’t drink the booze but you have to savor it by watching the el cantinero, or the bartender, mix his special ingredients.

The Caribbean is indeed one journey worth taking. More than its fine stretch of white sands and its bucketful of adventures, this part of the world can give travelers out-of-this-world experiences you surely want to do all over again! August 20, 2011