- The Washington Times - Friday, May 24, 2002

More than 2,000 years ago in northern China, statesman-poet Chu Yuan drowned himself to protest the corruption of the Chu Dynasty. This Saturday and Sunday, that sacrifice will be commemorated in the District with the first-ever Washington Dragon Boat Races.

The Chinese Women's League and the National Capital Area Women's Paddling Association are staging the races, which have become popular around the world, according to league spokeswoman Carrie Lin.

"We're proud and delighted to bring this very colorful, cultural sporting event to the Washington, D.C., area," Mrs. Lin said.

More than a thousand racers will participate in the event, to be held on the Potomac along Georgetown.

The races are part of the league's effort to share Chinese culture and traditions with the rest of Washington, Mrs. Lin said.

Chu Yuan's death became a legend, as did the attempts of local fisherman to save his body from being eaten by fish and the mythological water dragon, ruler of the seas. According to legend, the fishermen rowed their boats to where Yuan drowned and hit the water with paddles, beat drums and threw rice dumplings into the water to appease the dragon.

The races are competitive, but symbolism is an important element of the event.

Each boat is 45 feet long and is made to look like a dragon, with a large head at the front of the boat, a large tail at the end, and the sides painted to look like scales.

There are 20 paddlers in each boat, one drummer, one pilot and one flag-catcher. The drummer provides a pace for the rowers, while the flag-catcher's only job is to lay across the dragon head on the front and grab a flag from a buoy.

The first boat to maneuver from the starting line to the buoy, grab the flag and throw it into the water is the winner. Winners will be awarded trophies and medals.

Success depends on the coordination between the drummer, the rowers, the pilot and the flag-catcher.

There will be 39 heats over two days, with 45 teams involved.

Eight of the teams are experienced, but 37 teams are composed of novices including teams of D.C. police officers, college professors and students, congressional staffers, breast cancer survivors, and doctors and nurses.

Teams have been training for the races since May 4 under the direction of Patt Meyer, a 51-year-old grandmother who took teams to the dragon-boat world championships in Philadelphia last summer. Her teams took home two bronze medals.

"It's been very intense," she said.

The next world championships will be held in Shanghai in 2003.

The Chinese Women's League is a community service organization focused on serving underprivileged women and children. Many of its members are from Taiwan, Mrs. Lin said.

The races will be held from noon to 4 p.m. tomorrow and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, rain or shine, in front of the Washington Harbor boardwalk. Spectators should provide their own seating, Mrs. Lin said.

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