17 September 2019

Host nation Ukraine dominated the medal count at the ICF dragon boat club crew world championships in Kiev, but the highlight of the event was the diversity of paddlers that took part in the international event.

Athletes from all walks of life, from juniors to masters, competed in the team sport which is famous the world over for bringing together people from different backgrounds.

Among those lining up in Kiev were cancer survivors, bankers, nurses, labourers, Olympians, the grandson of Sweden’s Gert Fredriksson, the most successful male sprint canoeist ever, and an opera singer..

Once crew from Sweden particularly caught the eye. In their team was opera singer Florian Voss, and Olympic hurdler Vili Vunasau.

“I started to paddle about one year ago with the national team, and became a steersman about two weeks ago,” Voss said.

“I’ve practiced every day since. Two years ago I was 125kg, and now I’m 88kg. I lost two kilograms just in the last two weeks, padding five hours a day so I could keep my weight low for the boat.

“Losing the weight doesn’t affect my singing, because paddling is about conditioning breathing and rhythm, just like singing.”

Vili Vunasau was an Olympic hurdler for Fiji, competed in dragon boats in Australia, and now finds himself in Sweden, and still loving the team boats.

“I started paddling dragon boat about nine years ago, quite by accident,” he said.

“My cousin dragged me into it. I came from an athletic background, having competed for Fiji as an Olympic hurdler.

“As I come from a Polynesian background, this is in my blood. Water is like second nature for us.”

Dragon Boat