A team of 15 Piedmont College rowers out-fought Georgia Tech, the University of Georgia, University of North Georgia, Clemson, and Kennesaw at the 18th Annual Atlanta Dragon Boat Festival, held on Saturday at the Lake Lanier Olympic Venue in Gainesville.
The Piedmont team - made up mostly of freshmen - was the surprise winner, finishing the 250-meter race in front of 7,000 screaming fans at 1 minute 9.20 seconds, almost two full seconds ahead of the number two team from UNG. In all 13 collegiate teams entered the race.
In modern dragon boat racing, which has been a competitive sport since 1976, teams of up to 20 rowers, a drummer and a steersman paddle the long Chinese-style canoe-like boats. Saturday's event was sponsored by the Hong Kong Information Center in Atlanta
"It was unbelievable -- awesome!" said German professor Monika Schulte, who helped organize the entry. "Everybody was stunned, it was so amazing."
Schulte said many members of the team were commandeered the day before and had only about a half hour of instruction before the race. That coaching came from a prime source, though -- Piedmont sophomore Stanton Collins of Gainesville, who is competing to row flatwater kayak for the U.S. Olympic team in 2014.
Collins, now ranked 14th in the world in two-man kayak at the 200-meter and 1,000-meter distances, said the dragon boat win ranks up there with his more competitive wins.
"For dragon boat racing, I'd say this was my favorite," Collins laughed.
Collins has participated in dragon boat racing for some six years with the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club.
"We just went over basic technical things," Collins said. "There is not much you can in one day. There was one other person in the boat who was an experienced paddler, and I told everybody to just follow us and do what we did. Honestly, I have no idea how they did as well as they did."