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Lake Lanier makes way for the Canadians

Club lays cables, buoys for Olympic team

POSTED: April 24, 2008 5:00 a.m.
TOM REED/The Times

Jeff Eden tosses a buoy while Connie Hagler lets out cable Saturday as they start the set-up procedure on the Lake Lanier Olympic course that will be used for the Canadian team's canoe/kayak Olympic Trials May 3-4.

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The first signs of preparation for the upcoming Canadian canoe/kayak Olympic Team Trials were taking shape Saturday at the Lake Lanier’s Clarks Bridge rowing venue, as course builders pressure-washed buoys and laid down steel cables for the upcoming May 3-4 event.

Just don’t look to see any U.S. Olympic Team competitions at the site of the 1996 Olympics anytime soon, one official said.

As Canadians begin arriving in Gainesville in the next step toward Beijing, American athletes, including a contingent of 26 from the Lanier Kayak and Canoe Club, are heading to Oklahoma City. The canoe/kayak Olympic Trials will be held there beginning next week.

Connie Hagler, director of the upcoming Canadian trials at Lake Lanier and former executive director of the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club, said Hall County shouldn’t expect to see American Olympic athletes competing in trials here in the near future.

Hagler said having the Canadians athletes come to Gainesville is prestigious, particularly considering their success in the sport in recent Games. With that success, the Canadian team has been able to pay to have a 1,500 meter course set up on the lake and have the event hosted.

Hagler said Canadian officials tell them that the Lanier club runs events better than any other venue in North America.

The American Olympic Team Trials, meanwhile, are being lured to lesser venues with big incentives, Hagler said.

Oklahoma City brought the flatwater canoe/kayak trials to its Oklahoma River championship course with a donation of $150,000 to the national governing body and the promise of a full-scale, $500,000 event, Hagler said.

"Their course doesn’t even touch ours," Hagler said. "But as far as supporting the sport with funding and turning it into a real event, they’re doing a magnificent job."

Oakridge, Tenn., has also become a more competitive bidder for Olympic-class paddling events by offering incentive packages, Hagler said.

Hagler has been publicly critical in the past of what she says is a lack of local government
support in bringing national competitions and Olympic qualifying events involving American athletes to Lanier’s Olympic venue, a proposition that increasingly requires lining up sponsors and devoting tax dollars.

"We probably won’t have any U.S. events
coming up, because other communities in the United States are structuring their bids better than they have in the past," Hagler said. "Just because of the way we’re structured, we won’t get it again for a bit. Until we figure out we want to change that, or (teams) get nervous about the quality of the other venues."

The U.S. Olympic Team Trials for whitewater events are April 25-27 in Charlotte, N.C.



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