Chapter 3: Anything and Everything.
^Photo credit: Marcella
We got so much thrown at us on just the first day of racing, if I didn’t do things in chronological order, I wouldn’t know where to start. Also I ended up having too much to write about, so I had to add more parts to this series.
The whole competition would consist of 100 m standard mixed sprints, 200 m standard mixed sprints, 400 m small boat gender relays, 500 m standard mixed races, and 1 km small boat gender pursuits. Lots of new things, lots of unknowns. A total of twelve teams were participating: Canada, China 1, China 2, Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei, Macao (i.e. basically five Chinese teams), Thailand, Germany, Russia, Great Britain, Australia, and Philippines. China sent two teams, which were, to my understanding, the national team (China 2), consisting of the Windsor Arch club, and a combination of Shunde men (I still remember how Shunde completely destroyed all other open teams at the 2012 Hong Kong CCWC) and a local women’s team (China 1), who apparently rivaled Windsor Arch women. These two Chinese teams would prove to be very strong over the course of the competition.
First off, practice races. Practice races are the worst things and we should never do them. The first one was the 200 m. Since there were the mini boat races and the 100 m practice race before ours, after the officials and volunteers had rushed us out onto our boat, we were stuck on the water for what felt like forever (at least half an hour if not more) before we were able to race. It was cold and wet and we were very sad. None of the teams that went were going very hard (it was only a practice race, after all), so it wasn’t super stressful. I guess it was kind of nice to see the format and get a feel for the water. Which was really the only good thing about the whole ordeal. Not gonna lie, it was pretty miserable. When the organizers said “practice race” they really meant the whole thing. Not only did we go through the motions of racing, we were told not to get off the water right away but to head toward the podium for a practice podium ceremony too. It was pretty elaborate, actually, with a mock medal presentation ceremony, complete with volunteers pretending to hold trays of medals, officials pretending to put medals on our necks, and the playing of the Chinese national anthem (China had come in first in the practice race).
And then we had to do it all over again with the 400 m relay.
We didn’t actually go through the medal ceremony the second time around and the wait time on the water was much shorter, thank goodness. I had also learned my lesson from the first practice race and donned a plastic poncho for the second race. These ponchos, given out by the organizers to each team, would turn out to be lifesavers over the duration of the competition. It started out as just Marcella and I wearing them, but slowly the rest of the paddlers and steers started wearing them as well, including on the boat. We would essentially wear them all through warm-up, up until it was basically time to head to the start line and line up, at which point we would quickly take them off and stuff them into our racing shorts. Light but effective protection against wind and rain.
For the relay, the women started at the finish line racing 200 m toward the start line, and vice versa for the men. The women would go first and once they passed the line, an official would bring down a flag, signaling the men to go. Pretty neat concept and I think it’d be cool if we could try this format out back in Canada. The women and men both did a hard starts and then coasted for the rest. Though we couldn’t tell if Macao was going hard or not, they were significantly behind us so it put us in a comfortable place. Unfortunately both Sin and Carolyn were sick so though Sin raced the 200 m, he sat out the rest of the day and Carolyn stayed in bed all day, recovering.
After a short break to eat lunch and get dry, it was time for the real races to start. The first distance of the World Cup was the 1 km pursuit. In each heat, four countries faced off against each other, with the women of one country going first and the men of the same country following 20 s later. The women of the second country would follow 10 s later, again followed by their men after 20 s and so on. The route consisted of a 200 m straightaway course with three turns (accounting 11 m for the width of a lane and approximately 57 m as the calculated arc of a turn). Somewhat similar to our native Canadian 2 km race format. However, let me first say that I have never participated in a competition before where we had to race more than one 2 km per division. Here, we had heats, quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals for every distance and man, it made for a lot of racing. Our opponents consisted of China 2, Philippines, and Macao, in that order. Canada was slated to go last. China 2, lucky team, had clear water as they went first, which I’d say was quite an advantage. Canada easily and quickly caught up to Macao but got stuck behind both their women and men’s crews without much room to pass, which slowed us down somewhat. Our men also caught up to the women somewhere around the third turn and we had some minor bumps, which further slowed us down. I tried pushing the men away with my drumstick but it was a very feeble attempt and I don’t think it helped at all. In the end, Canada actually had the fastest time (9:01.330) of all three heats, ahead of second place (Germany) by almost 24 s, which really didn’t make any sense, especially when you take into account later races. I’m pretty sure it was a timing fluke and in fact, I think several teams’ times got messed up (e.g. Germany’s time beat both Chinese teams’ and Australia was less than a second behind China 1), but whatever. It was nevertheless a good start to the racing.
The next race was the 1 km quarterfinal, where Canada would again be going last, behind the Philippines, Australia, and China 1, respectively. China 1 won the race, with us coming in just under 3 s behind them in 2nd place. I have no idea what happened, but some very weird results came about in the other quarterfinal. China 2 fulfilled expectations and won first, but second place was…Russia? What? Chinese Taipei got third and Germany of all countries came in last, almost 25 s behind third place and nearly a minute behind China 2. Something was definitely wrong there. It could have been due to penalties, I s’pose, but in normal racing, Germany ought not to have been that far behind. Regardless, we knew the Chinese teams were fast and getting to the final was going to be tough. But that was a battle for another day as we were on to the 400 m relays!
I gotta admit, the relay idea was fun. Seeding was based on the results of the 1 km heats, which would have been fine except for the fact that I am 100% sure something wrong happened in the timing of those heats. Being seeded first, Canada should have been up against the lowest ranked team from the 1 km heats, which made sense…except that in this case the lowest ranked team was Thailand. Um…I’m telling you right now, Thailand was by far NOT the slowest team in any respect and I don’t know if the officials from the 1 km heats just made up random times or something, but everything was very, very wrong. Not like it mattered in the end; we still dealt with it, but had a tougher time of it than we would have liked. The Thais are definitely still fast and the Canadian men and women won, but it was a hard-fought victory. Compare our 1.2 s difference between Canada and Thailand vs. the 10 s difference between China 2 and Hong Kong and the 12 s difference between China 1 and Macao. We were very slightly bitter about how that worked out (or at least I was). The next two races were the 400 m repechage and quarterfinal (I don’t really remember too much about these races, so I took that info from the official results page), which Canada handily won against Philippines and Russia, respectively. Our strategy was basically have the women race hard so the men could take it easy and coast (real life, anybody?).
At this point, it was time to change gears and get ready for the standard boat races. The last races of the day would be the 200 m mixed standard boat sprints. Starting and finishing the day with the same race. Paddlers were getting tired, even Marcella and I were getting tired. It was a grueling day and we weren’t done yet. In fact, our first 200 m heat was going to be the toughest heat of the competition: Canada vs. China 1 and China 2. I don’t know how this was seeded but in no way was it fair. The three strongest teams of the competition in the same heat? Maaan. The winners of each of the four heats and the next fastest team would progress to the quarterfinals, while the rest would head to the repechages to compete for a spot in the quarterfinals.
We raced hard. And got third. By 0.074 s to China 1 and by 1.18 s to China 2. But also ahead of every other team in every other heat. Lucky Philippines, Chinese Taipei, and Thailand, along with Chinas 1 and 2 got to move on, while we had to do a repechage. So close! It hurt.
Apparently everybody had it out for us on this day. In the repechage, we faced off against Germany and Great Britain and were winning easily until Great Britain’s steer lost control of her boat (either through getting pulled into our wash or slipping or even some combination of the two, I’m not sure) and crashed into us. I was drumming this race and could see it coming; I saw their boat start angling toward ours, coming closer, closer…Boom! Crash! Chaos ensued. At first it didn’t look like the collision was too bad and I kept thinking it’s okay, we got this, we can still finish the race, it’s not too late. We were even still ahead! Except we were drifting closer and closer toward Germany and I was like why, no, come on Matt, you can regain control, steer us straight, we can still win, we’re like 30 m from the finish line, don’t let us crash again…Aaaand crash we did. Turns out that when Great Britain collided with us, they a) hit Marianne in the back of the head (giving her whiplash and a few minutes of dazed pain) and b) hit Smith, taking out not just the steering oar but the actual entire steering arm along with it.
Matt steered us back to the docks using a dragon boat paddle so we could change boats. GB got DQ’ed and we then had to immediately rerace the repechage with Germany. Matt Robert and Alex rushed to us on a motorboat in case we needed a spare to replace Marianne, but she turned out to be okay to race. Having to repechage and then having to re-repechage was definitely a damper on our spirits, especially after such a long dreary day. We had started out with only 6 or 7 races scheduled and had ended up doing 10. A complete test of adaptability, resilience, and pure grit.
I really kind of wish the organizers had just given the repechage to us and saved both countries the bother (we still won by more than 2 s), but hey, you take what you’re given. End of the day. Time to rest and get ready for the next day.