Monday, May 9, 2011

Angola Canoeing: Beginning 'Paddles' to Success

Despite the difficulties of starting a “new activity” like canoeing in Angola, the sport has already taken the name of the country far beyond the sea that laps the western side of the capital city Luanda.  In just ten years, the national high-level athletes have won 23 medals in African championships (six gold, eight silver and nine bronze).

There is not much information about the origin of Canoeing in Angola. The most ancient records mention “canoe competitions among the fishermen of the island during Luanda’s and Dande’s festivals”, says professor Francisco Freire. The winner of these sporadic competitions, dating back to colonial times, “won a case of beer”, recalls the chairman of the Technical Council of the Angolan Federation of Water Sports (FADEN).

The period that followed the colonial times, where water sports were basically sailing and rowing, the sport of canoeing was almost nonexistent.  Canoeing would have to wait almost 25 years to shake again the Bay of Luanda, now in a more serious way.

The sport is gaining greater visibility during festivals of the Nautical Club (February), the Naval Club (May) and Navy (June). Despite the growing interest, FADEN controls only 20  canoeing athletes (to which we add 100 sailing athletes and five of rowing). Of these, 15 practice at high level, despite the “lack of proper support structures”, according to Freire.

But the highlight of the initial activity was the Olympic qualification of Fortunato Pacavira for the Beijing Olympics in 2008, in which the athlete reached the semi-finals in the 1000 meters men race. The islander athlete, who has also participated in three tournaments in Africa and two in the world, has also won first place in Africa's championships of Cote d'Ivoire in 2009.  In 2008, he represented the national colors on the Olympic Games in Beijing. “I got the minimum qualifying result acceptable, and ended up reaching the semifinals, where I was seventh”.  It is of the opinion that Pacavira may already have company in the next Olympics where the goal of the Federation is to take two athletes to London next year.

In the opinion of  Freire, the results show an undeniable reality: “although we have not inherited canoeing from the colonial era, today it has already overtaken in terms of results, all other sports with more tradition and even modalities in which people invest more in Angola.  Of the 23 medals we won in only a decade of activity, 14 were achieved all at once at the last African Championship, in Côte d'Ivoire. This alone shows that this sport has much potential, though it is not highly valued in the country”.

Along with the African championships, the national canoeists are already looking forward for the London Olympics in 2012 and Rio de Janeiro in 2016. The perspectives of qualifying more Angolans for the most important international competition proves that “the competitive level of Angolan athletes is also increasing”. (excerpts from TAAG Austral Magazine)

No comments: