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.