By Jim Stevenson of VOA News | Washington – The ancient Asian sport of dragon boat racing has become a tradition in Washington, in the past decade. The ninth annual festival was held May 15 & 16 on the Potomac River.

Dragon heads mounted on the bow led the long, thin and colorful boats as they sliced across the water and continued a sport said to be 2,500 years old.

The Dragon Boat Festival commemorates the life and death of Qu (Chu) Yuan (340 -278 BC), a respected poet and political leader in ancient China.  Legend says he lost the trust of the king and saw his home state fall into the hands of inept officials, amid a looming invasion by powerful neighbors.  In despair, Qu drowned himself in the Mi-Lo River.

The people paddled frantically in vain to rescue him, and marked the event with annual boat races.

“This is a traditional Chinese sport,” said Jacquline Yang, who is with the D.C. Chapter of the Chinese Women’s League, which organizes the festival in Washington.  “And dragon boat racing is one of the fastest growing sports in the water in the [United] States.  We want to introduce this traditional Chinese culture into American society.”

During two days, 55 teams with 22 crew members a boat rowed against each other over 250- and 500-meter distances.

“We get interested members involved to build teamwork, to come out here to have lots of fun, and also to connect with of course what is a sport that is Asian in origin,” said Bill Ho-Gonzalez, when talking about his team from the Asian Pacific American Bar Association.

There are some serious competitors.  But approximately two-thirds of the crews at the D.C. Dragon Boat Festival are in the “fun” category of teams who primarily participate in just one festival a year, including Bill Ho-Gonzalez’s crew.

“A good number of them have never competed before.  And, we have a training session before this festival takes place.  There are about three training sessions.  Every team member has done at least two training sessions in preparation for the race,” he said.

Dragon boat racing was not widely introduced to the world until the 1970s when the Hong Kong Tourist Board promoted its culture with an international Dragon Boat Festival.

Now, more than 50 million people participate in dragon boat competitions around the world.

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