Our final full day in Chengdu was devoted to travel to various tourist destinations around Chengdu. The first stop was the famous panda reserve, home to 60 of the animal’s small population. The picture above is of Ben holding a baby panda, something guests can do for 1,000 yuan (not terribly expensive). We then traveled into Chengdu where we were brought to ancient Chinese ruins.
Our crew found even more speed in the second day of racing. We were assigned lane 1 with Italian, Chinese Development, New Zealand, Dutch and Oxford crews rounding out the field in our heat. A clean start put our bow within a length of the rest of the field after the first 750 meters. We pushed the Italians throughout and crossed the finish in 5th place, ahead of an Oxford crew that included athletes from this year’s Boat Race. Our finish time added to our previous day’s result gave us a 5th place finish of 12 crews for the Chengdu leg of the racing. We were happy with the way we raced.
Following the awards ceremony, our attention was immediately directed to the most bizarre tradition I have ever witnessed. A dilapidated truck backed up to the docks and people mounted the truck bed to toss live ducks into a motor boat. The motor boat then sped off to the middle of the race course as people launched the ducks into the water. Dragon boats filled to the brim then raced to the ducks where people jumped into the water to catch the animals by their necks. The crowd Oh’d and Ah’d as more ducks were captured. It was nothing like anything any of us had ever seen!
The racing concluded with a grand closing ceremony at the hotel. Traditional Chinese dance acts entertained the rowers and Chinese government officials while dinner was served. Everything from fire to acrobatics were included in this program. Each crew did their own production and most did dances or songs indigenous to their countries. All in all, this program wrapped up a very impressive week in Chengdu.
In the words of a sign along the course, our first race in Chengdu was one of satisfactory success. The top 6 times between the two heats would advance to the top race the following day. We were taken to the venue with a police escort and were surprised by the amount of people were flooding the paths around the course. Young spectators dressed in T-shirts that were one of 12 colors to represent the 12 different teams. They sat in their respective cheering sections in the grandstands. Our cheering section sat behind three large flags that read “Let’s Go Havard” (note the spelling) and cheered for us whenever we rowed by.
Before our race we took part in an hour and a half long Opening Ceremony. The ceremony involved the 12 boats parading around the course in a line, in sequence of the year each program was established. Meanwhile, Chinese government officials gave speeches to address the crowds over the jumbo trons.
On one lap of the parade we stopped the boat by the grandstands to start our practice sequence. As we did, the same fireworks we saw them setting up the day before exploded not 15 yards directly off the starboard side of the boat. We were engulfed in Red and Yellow smoke and extremely loud popping noises. When it cleared, we saw that Ben was hit by a firework, giving him an inch long wound on his leg! Luckily he was Ok, but the chaos continued as paratroopers flew overhead and jetskis ran off ramps beside us. All 9 of us could do nothing but laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation.
The racing itself was very strong. We had a fast heat and were in the thick of the field for the majority of the race. The Chinese Development Camp won the heat, edging out the Dutch and New Zealand entries. Between the two heats, we had the 6th fastest time on the day, placing us in the Main Event on Monday. We would have a chance to take down some of the crews who were well within striking distance. And, yes, we were all pleased to have had a time 21 seconds faster than Yale!
That night all crews were brought into the town of Xin Jin to enjoy a symphony that played music from the countries represented in the regatta. It was an impressive day.
Wow. I will let the pictures do the talking, but this racing venue is far and away the most impressive I have ever seen. We made it to the race course this morning to draw a card to see which boat we would be assigned. We drew boat 6, our guides told us it was a lucky number in China.
We rigged the boat as we all marveled at the venue. Our guides would grab us periodically to conduct interviews with Chinese televisions. The questions were funny and it is apparent they are using this race to show China off to the rest of the rowing world, similar to how the country used Beijing 2008 to show off to world.. A common theme of the questions: “Can you tell that Xin Jin City is known as the water city and that we are proud to provide such an impress course?”. Ben had his unisuit top down and had a camera thrown in his face and asked “You appear naked and relaxed, is that because you think you are going to win the regatta?”
The course was lined with jumbo-tron sized screen you’d see in an American baseball stadium. As we rowed, fireworks exploded on the shore and shot up the Chinese yellow and red smoke. Cameras run on wires over the course and the final 1,000 meters of the 2,000 meter course is lined with grandstands and a continuous board that features signs from sponsors. Each sign has Chinese characters and then the English translation. Some are funny: “The key to making food is to maintain high moral standard” for a Chinese food company and “Xin Jin Bank wishes you round success” and “Chengdu chemical company wishes satisfactory success of rowing festival”.
The race organizers expect 7,000 people to be in attendance Sunday and Monday. The opening ceremony takes place tomorrow morning, along with the first of our two races. We will row tomorrow in a heat that includes Amsterdam (fast crew from Temple Plate Henley), Oxford and Otago from New Zealand. The lowest cumulative times for the Sunday and Monday rows will win this first regatta.
The travel from Boston to Chengdu took over 24 hours. Exhausting, but the trip took us over the North Pole and to a completely different part of the world.
Upon arriving in China, the 9 of us drew a lot of attention to ourselves. Girls shook our hands in the airport and said things like “Holy cow, you are so handsome!”. Our Harvard crew was greeted by 5 Chinese girls who will serve as our interpreters and guides during the 4 day leg of the racing in Xin Jin City.
We boarded a bus at the Chengdu airport and were taken to a newly constructed hotel in Xin Jin City, the site of our first race. As we approached the hotel, the roads were lined with large signs that advertised the regatta. A large hotel staff greeted us and were tremendous hosts from the start, a theme that will continue. Some hotel employees spoke broken English, and they all talk about how proud they are of their city. We made a friend named Jon who lived with a host family in Oregon for 2 years before attending the University of Georgia, where he is in his Junior year. Jon is a native of Xin Jin City and speaks with a slight hint of an accent from the deep south, pretty funny.
We were taken to our rooms and were blown away by how luxurious the accommodations were. Everything is brand new. The hotel sits at the starting line of the race course and it appears that the athletes, coaches and volunteers are the only occupants. A little eerie.
The team trained together for 4 days in Boston prior to travel to China. Speaking for the six members of the crew who hadn’t been back to Boston or on the Charles in years, getting back into the boats brought back some great memories. It took no time to get back into the swing of things.
The 8+ practiced twice a day and was lucky to have had Harry to break us into shape and impart wisdom on the racing we will see in China.
The following video is a short compilation of some preparation for the trip (If the video doesn’t load, search “boston, ma training for china racing” on youtube:
We don’t know what to expect in China, but we are all very excited!