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Split-second Leads in Races Making Champions Boat League Special

In Sports
October 25, 2019

Between triumph and despair, it is a matter of just a few milliseconds that is becoming a defining feature of the ongoing Champions Boat League (CBL), that too with an element of regularity. The all-Saturday October 19 race, the seventh in the series, was no exception, upping the excitement quotient of the spectacular event in Kerala’s backwaters.

The three finalists at Kottappuram backwaters in Thrissur district paddled their snake-boats vigorously last weekend with the strength of their rippling biceps and rowing acumen, but neither the rowers nor a single member of the motley crowd could fathom the day’s winner, warranting the assistance of cameras to decide the results.

The spirited finals down the 900-metre track near the historical Kodungallur on October 19 was a photo-finish for the second and third winners, behind Tropical Titans (3:30.42). Backwater Knights were the runner-up, clocking 3:40.01, with a minuscule lead over Mighty Oars (3:41.13).

In fact, that race at Kottappuram had its teams finishing second to sixth decided by a difference of milliseconds (ranging from 3:27:12 to 3:28:53). The losers’ finals there saw Raging Rowers clock 3:41.76, just ahead of Coast Dominators (3:41.84) and Pride Chasers (3:41.85). Close finishes were the highlight of the second losers’ finals as well.

A week before it, the sixth race at Kottappuram on October 12, too, sprang upsets. A law-breaking conduct led the judges to reverse a result, courtesy also the photo-finish cameras that came to their aid. In the finals of that sixth race, Backwater Knights had come a surprise second (behind Tropical Titans), but were subsequently declared third after the jury imposed an additional five seconds on the team for track violation. Raging Rowers were thus officially declared the runner-up.

Almost in an encore of that riveting spectacle, the three finalists won loud cheers all the way down the shores of Marine Drive here earlier this month, but the day’s winner was confirmed once again with the help of technically sound cameras.

The unrestrained frenzy up till the last stretch is offering CBL spectators with a nerve-wracking post-race suspense that unravels only when the winner and runners-up are formally declared. This has become increasingly the trend at the pioneering Kerala Tourism-organised CBL slated to conclude next month. Such has been the flurry of close results across the past seven of the 12 weekend water races that organisers wonder how difficult it would have been to proceed with the three-month event but for the photo-finish cameras.

At downtown Ernakulam here on October 5, for instance, all finalists rowed neck-and-neck from the starting point to the end, much to the thrill of the 83,000-strong viewers. It turned out that a mere range of 42 milliseconds decided the fate of the evening’s top three. Only when the mikes heralded the news could the onlookers make out that Coast Dominators were the evening’s victors, clocking 3:17.99 minutes to finish barely an inch ahead of Tropical Titans (3:18.16), followed by Raging Rowers (3:18.41).

If this was the climax along the shallow 960-metre stretch of the Arabian Sea at Kochi, not much different was the experience at previous CBL round in a semi-hilly town of Ernakulam district. Upstream the Moovattupzha river on September 28, the Piravom leg actually had its first six teams decided within a range of just six seconds. It was Tropical Titans who finished first, leaving Mighty Oars and Raging Rovers in second and third spots, respectively. The topper down the 900-metre track timed 3:11.08, followed by the second and third finishers at 3:13.33 and 3:13.50.

“Boat-races have always been competitive, and CBL has definitely added to that vigour,” notes Kerala Tourism Minister Kadakampally Surendran, about the championship modelled on the lines of IPL cricket.

Adds Rani George, Secretary, Kerala Tourism: “Being held in five districts, the parallel aspiration has anyway been reviving water carnivals that are integral to Kerala’s traditional post-monsoon festivities.”

Kerala Tourism Director P Bala Kiran notes that CBL rounds have broadened the fanfare base of Kerala’s boat-races. “Today, they are celebrated far beyond Alappuzha and the neighbouring belts,” he says, adding that the races have become cliffhangers.

A photo-finish camera employs strip photography, fixing a sensor on the finish line from a high angle. The device clicks images in rapid succession through a narrow slit as snake-boats cross the line. The stills are then arranged horizontally. Last month, at Karuvatta in Alappuzha district, the final race was packed with suspense. Tropical Titans, the September 14 round’s victors, timed 4:12.11, inches ahead of Coast Dominators (4:12.90) and Mighty Oars (4:13.80) down the one-km track near Harippad.

In the previous round at Kottayam, there was a difference of just 36 milliseconds between the first and second runner-up: Mighty Oars finished at 3:25.49, narrowly ahead of Pride Chasers at 3:25.85. The evening’s winner of that round at Thazhathangadi river was Tropical Titans (3:23:86). Similar was the case at the inaugural race in Alappuzha, overlapping with the illustrious Nehru Trophy Boat Race. Finishing finish second and third in the August 31 final at the Punnamada backwaters were Coast Dominators (4.28.40) and Raging Rowers (4.29.84).

Tropical Titans, who have been the victors in all but one of the CBL rounds so far, remain atop the overall tally with 98 points. Sharing the second position with 47 points are Raging Rowers and Mighty Oars. In such a situation, CBL rule does not give the following team a third position. In the fourth slot is Coast Dominators (42).

The CBL final will be held at Kollam on November 23 along with the President’s Trophy Boat Race. This Saturday’s leg is at Kainakari, while the next ones on November 2 and 9 are at Pulinkunnu and Kayamkulam (all in Alappuzha district), respectively. The November 16 round is at Kallada further downstate in Kollam district.