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Steersman Rob Pitura of the River City Dragons walks through a gauntlet of oars after the gold division race Saturday. Pioneer Photo/Dennis Doeden

Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival: Canadian team takes home gold

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news Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

The sixth annual Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival culminated in a climactic finish Saturday with teams coming from first to fourth place in less than one second apart.

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The River City Dragons from Winnipeg, Manitoba, crossed the line in the Gold Division race in 1:.27.34, winning by a dragon nose over the second-place The Eh Team at 1:27.85, Prostate Paddlers at 1:27.87 and HydraHeads at 1:28.22.

"Wow! What a race," announcer Brian Bissonette shouted to the crowd. "That's dragon boat racing at its best. That's four powerhouse dragon teams there. Gives you goose bumps."

The Gold Division featured the teams with the best combined times from the morning and afternoon qualifying heats. The top three teams in the Gold Division were from Canada.

Because of threatening weather, the course was shortened by 100 meters to allow the races to finish before the squall moved in.

"We've been blessed to have it avoid us," said Bissonette.

As the River City Dragons came ashore, hugging and high-fiving each other, Captain Taz Stuart said the team's start made all the difference.

"It's all about the start," he said. "Our start was perfect, the best all season."

The River City Dragons race nationally and internationally.

The 2008 and 2010 champion HydraHeads congratulated the new champion River City Dragons with a winners' honor lane of arched paddles, and more hugs.

The Silver Division winners from first-fourth were FART (Foundation Alumni Rowing Team) from Rotary District 5580 Alumni, PBS Paddlers from Lakeland Public Television, The Holy Rowers from First Lutheran Church and Midco Muskies from Midcontinent Communications.

"We gave it all we've got," said FART Captain Liz Zachary of Thunder Bay, Ontario. "The start was a little bit off because of the wind, but we pulled together and pulled it off for Rotary."

The Bronze Division winners from first-fourth were Chicken Ship from Great River Dental, Moto Dragons from Dondelinger GM, Lincoln's Honor Rowl from Lincoln Elementary School and Bemidji Jaycees.

Chicken Ship, a team name the announcers said they pronounced very carefully, was docked two seconds off the winning time because the team lacked a drummer, but carried the race anyway.

"We all called the cadence," said Captain Doug Williams. "Trying to get our cadence in order, but we all counted in unison."

Scott Turn said the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival is an annual success because of the input from volunteers and sponsors, as well as members of Sentence to Serve. The event is a joint project of the Bemidji Rotary Club and Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce.

Organizer Gary Johnson said planning for the 2012 Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival will begin almost immediately.

"It's pretty much year round," he said.

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