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Epic Te Aito effort

Monday 19 July 2010 | Published in Regional

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Dearlove finishes 63rd, likely

in top 50 after race dispute

It was a hugely successful day in the Tahitian surf and sun on Saturday for the first two Cook Islanders in the famous Te Aito Tahiti canoe race.

For Reuben Dearlove especially, it was everything he had hoped for as he finished 63rd among 580 paddlers in a time of about 2hrs 30mins, and by the time a major race controversy is sorted out today he could have climbed into the top 50.

His result was the best ever by a foreign or international paddler, and earned him accolades and praise from several past champions of Te Aito. It also qualifies him for the prestigious Te Aito Super 100, reserved only for elite canoeists, which takes place next month.

Te Aito Cook Islands organiser Fletcher Melvin finished about 180th in an estimated time of 2hrs 50mins, but his placing could also improve by scores of places as a result of the chaos.

The epic 28km endurance event was marred by the mass disqualification of 72 canoeists, most of them at the head of the field, for breaking a race rule by sitting in their boats when the start gun went off.

All of the offenders were to have 15 minutes added to their final times.

Tahiti’s national newspaper La Depeche yesterday broke news of the scandal in French Polynesia’s national sport with the headline ‘L’impensable denouement’ reporting how fourth placegetter Bruno Tauhiro had actually won the race because the first three were penalised for breaking the start rule.

He displaced three angry and dejected paddlers, the 19-year-old Steve Teihotaata who had won the junior and open men’s Te Aito back to back for the first time ever, second placed Clovis Trope and third placed Tere Arii Hamblin.

Organisers were in such turmoil over the mass default problem that no final placings or times were available even yesterday 24 hours afterwards.

For the Cook Islands contingent, however, it was not disappointing and had them agreeing yesterday that race organisation and control at our homegrown Vaka Eiva is outstanding by comparison.

The Tahitian champion Manutea Owen commented that both Dearlove and Melvin had proven themselves with highly respectable times. For Dearlove to make the top 100, he said it showed that by working on his surf technique he could easily be counted as one of the best in the game.

Saturday’s race by Dearlove was a marvellous spectacle from the support boat. With the first 100 canoes, he had cut clear of the pack before the halfway mark, and was in a stream of paddlers stroking just over one stroke per second, on the final beat back down Matauai Bay.

Dearlove hit the homeward beat strongly, leading a v-shaped squadron of 12 younger paddlers from inside the reef to Point Venus. For 30 minutes to the finish line, he hauled in paddler after paddler.

Similarly Melvin paddled strongly after his second ocean run, and also distinguished himself by passing others as he cut through the field to improve his finish position. Cheering and yelling from the two Cook Islands support boats, women paddlers Vaea Melvin, Serena Hunter and Emilene Taulu helped make this an epic first Cook Islands team effort at Te Aito Tahiti.