Harbour tests world's best paddlers
Victoria Harbour might seem like a world away from Germany's Neckar River, but the Neckardrachen Heilbronn dragon boat team felt very much at home at the Club Crew World Championships that ended yesterday.
The crack German outfit, who race as the Boeckingen Canoeing Club back home, finished as one of the most successful overseas crews in the five-day long championships.
Neckardrachen Heilbronn ended the meeting with six gold, four silver and three bronze medals, but the success came as no surprise to team manager Uwe Muller, who saluted his 100-plus squad.
'We have always been a very strong canoeing club in Germany,' said Muller of his outfit, who are based near Stuttgart. 'We are 30-time German champions and have a 104-year history. We put the same enthusiasm, team spirit, hard work, and commitment to dragon boat racing.'
Competing for the second time in Asia after picking up three gold medals in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, six years ago, Muller said Victoria Harbour was a challenge to his crew.
'We train in Neckardrachen which is flat water, nothing like the waves and currents that we had to endure here over this past week,' he said. 'This is the first time we have raced in Hong Kong. The harbour was very difficult for us, so I am very happy we have done well.
'We enjoyed our stay here. This is the right place to host a world championship. It's perfect. We love the Asian culture.'
Neckardrachen did not send their young elite team because of costs and Muller said if they had come, they would have given the formidable Chinese crews a run for their money in the premier class contests.
'Neckardrachen beat the top Chinese crews in a meeting in Tampa, Florida, at the world dragon boat championships this year,' he explained. 'This isn't our very best squad in Hong Kong because we couldn't fly them here. Most of the members of our elite team are students. We paid our own way here.'
Neckardrachen relied on 'old hands' such as veteran canoeist Marion Lachmann, one of the club's most famous athletes, who represented East Germany at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games.
The club also includes former kayaking world champion Petra Wolfrum and four-time canoeing champion Bert Matthies, who helped carry their team to the six golds.
The Chinese crews from Guangdong and Shunde dominated the premier competitions by winning four and three golds, respectively.
Hong Kong's Dragons Abreast were the most successful local team with two golds in the small-boat competition.
Australia's Canberra Grammar and the Vladivostok Tigers from Russia both won seven gold medals each in the standard boat and small-boat categories respectively.
More than 4,700 athletes representing 180 clubs based in 20 countries and regions took part in the championships that attracted more than 380,000 spectators over the five days of competition.