On the international level of dragon boat racing competition races are won or lost by small fractions of a second and distances that are sometimes measured in inches.
That was the case for Lance Syferd, of Fort Dodge, when he competed with the United States Dragon Boat Federation team at the world championships in Szeged, Hungary, this summer.
The two final races, a 500- and a 1,000-meter drew it down to the wire.
—Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Fort Dodge’s Lance Syferd displays the silver and bronze medals he helped the U.S. dragonboat racing team win at the 2013 World Championships in Szeged, Hungary last summer.
"We had the lead from the start until there were 15 or 20 meters left," Syferd said. "We were bested by 0.02 and 0.05 seconds."
How far is that?
"You're talking a foot," he said. "Canada ended up winning the gold; we ended up with silver in both."
The loss was due to a simple miscalculation by the caller - the team member who beats a drum to help time the strokes the paddlers are using in the boat.
"She called us out of the last sequence of power strokes too quickly," he said.
At the end of the race, Syferd said, the paddlers really hit it hard. A normal pace for power strokes is about 60 to 70 per minute; at the finish they increase to about 84, he said, but that rate can only be sustained for a short period of time.
"We got burned out," he said.
The next international racing event will be held in September in Italy for the World Club Crew races. Syferd is ready to go with a team from Chicago coached by Bob McNamara.
"We have a very fast crew and a very fast boat," he said. "Sixty percent of us have experience at the world level."
This time, he hopes to bring home some gold.
"This crew is good enough to do it," he said.
To stay competitive, Syferd works out. He lifts weights four days a week and rows on a machine three nights a week.
As the weather clears, he will add to that.
"By mid-April I'll be on the water five days a week," he said.
That water is Badger Lake at John F. Kennedy Memorial Park, the site of the annual Dragon Boat Bash.
Syferd got his start locally.
"I went out the very first year," he said. "That was 17 years ago."
At the time, he had no idea where it would take him.
"You never know where it leads," he said. "Look at me."
He's traveled to Berlin, Sydney, Prague, Ontario and Hong Kong to race.
"I've got all kinds of room left," he said, referring to his passport.
Syferd, who is 53, said anyone, regardless of age or current condition, should get involved and become active.
"It's never too late to start," he said.
As for Syferd, he's looking forward to competing again - and adding something shiny to his collection of medals.
"That elusive gold medal just keeps eluding me."
But only by a fraction of a second.