By Martin Cleary
When you think of Canada’s top amateur athletes, it’s natural to tip your hat to those who represent our country at the Olympic and Paralympic Games, Pan American and Parapan Am Games, Commonwealth Games and world championships.
These are Canada’s best trained and qualified athletes and there’s a whole new wave of U23, junior and age-group athletes in the making and preparing to hit shore.
But there’s also a group of dedicated, older athletes who are often missed in the celebration of athletic achievement. They are the masters athletes, who train before or after work, compete in small age-group classifications and strive for personal-best results in local, provincial, national and world championships.
Most sports will have a masters component, whether these are athletes who have never left their sport or citizens who have taken up a sport at some point and have discovered their athletic side.
At two far-ranging venues last weekend, Ottawa masters athletes showed their skills, determination and love of sport by competing at the 16th World Dragon Boat Racing Championships in Pattaya, Thailand, and the Canadian Masters Track and Field Championships in Langley, B.C.
In 1994, the federal government passed the National Sports of Canada Act and named lacrosse as Canada’s national summer sport. Based on its results over the past number of years and especially the recent world championships in Thailand, Canada should give serious consideration to elevating dragon boat racing to such status as well.
Dragon boat racers are weekend warriors. They work Monday to Friday, train in their off hours and cover their own costs. The team spirit is high, the unison paddling is furious and spellbinding and the celebrations are from the heart.
And at least for this year, Canada is the No. 1 country in the world for dragon boat racing.
While the Canadian team in Thailand had paddlers from coast to coast, a healthy portion of that squad is based in the National Capital Region – 17 from the Ottawa Dragon Boat Club and Ottawa Dragon Masters, 16 from the Bytown Dragon Boat Club and two independent racers.
After seven days of racing – the standard boat has 20 paddlers, a drummer and a steers person and the small boat has 10 paddlers, a drummer and a steers person – Canada emerged as the best in the world.
Canadian paddlers won 52 gold, 36 silver and 13 bronze medals for a total of 101 medals across all men’s, women’s and para-age categories from U16 to 60-plus.
China placed second with 53 medals (30-17-6) and the United States was third at 82 medals (24-39-19). The medal table was based on the number of gold medals won by a country.
As a result of its medal production and points earned, Canada won the Nation’s Cup for best premier team and the Senior Nation’s Cup for the best senior team. Canada also captured the first-ever gold medal in the para-dragon boat category.
In the standard boat race category, there were 77 races. Canada won 36 gold medals (46.8 per cent) and 72 medals in total (93.5 per cent). On the small boat side, there were 66 races and Canada captured 16 gold (24.2 per cent) and 29 medals overall (43.9 per cent).
The world championships offered 143 gold medals and Canada won 52 for 36.4 per cent. By winning a medal in 101 of 143 races, Canada reached the podium 70.6 per cent of the time.
National Capital Region athletes with the Ottawa Dragon Boat Club, Bytown Dragon Boat Club and independent racers won multiple medals each from their various races. Here’s the roster for the local paddlers:
OTTAWA DRAGON BOAT CLUB: Elizabeth Koopman, Lynne Miln, Larry Schwan, Ed Keyes, Keith Moody, Kevin Banks, Billy Williams, Vince Fagnan, Roger Friedman, Beirong Xiong, Caroline Proulx, Jean-Francois Martel, Julie Nadeau, Natacha Tremblay, Rosemarie Morse, Sophie Toupin and Timk Timk.
BYTOWN DRAGON BOAT CLUB: Jocelyn MacKenzie, Tania Kingsbury, Elizabeth Gilbert, Colleen Daly, Gord Krieg, Tom Huppert, Jennifer Miller, Laurie Mack, Carolyn Odecki, Marisa Freedman, Sharon Squire, Claude Tellier, Terry Longhorn, Denise Ludington, Cathy Smyth and Isabelle Fradette.
INDEPENDENT RACERS: Mark Singer and Bronwyn Funiciello.
Terry Longhorn had double duty at worlds, paddling as a para athlete and in non-para boats.
Dragon boat racing is a sport open to men, women and athletes with disabilities from early teens to their 70s. One of Canada’s strengths is its coaching, which includes former Olympic paddlers.
Paddlers are known to train throughout the year with indoor pool paddling, paddle-erg, and weight and cardio training.
13 medals for Ottawa Lions at track masters nationals
Meanwhile, at the Canadian Masters Track and Field Championships, Erinn Joseph and Ashley Crawford made their nationals debuts, winning three medals each and spearheading the Ottawa Lions Track and Field Club to 13 medals, which included eight gold.
In the W30 (women’s 30-34 age class), Joseph was unbeatable in the sprints, sweeping the 100-, 200- and 400-metre finals with seasonal best times. Her respective times were 14.75 seconds, 30.52 seconds and 1:11.93.
Crawford was the W35 silver and bronze medallist respectively in the 100- and 200 metres and placed third in the 400 metres. She ran 14.39 seconds for the 100 metres, 29.71 seconds for the 200 and 1:07.05 for the 400.
World-ranked sprinter Wendy Alexis dominated the W65 100 (14.12 seconds) and 200 metres (29.89 seconds), running her fastest times since 2020.
In the M35 class, Michael Conway performed well and posted comfortable victories over 400 and 800 metres in respective times of 55.33 seconds and 2:05.76.
Kimberley Howitt competed in the W35 class and was first over 800 metres in 2:31.52 and second over 400 metres in 1:06.05. Marino Sani was third in the M60 400 metres in 1:13.66.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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