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6 things you should know about the dragon boat championship coming to Lake Lanier
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The ICF Dragon Boat World Championships came to Lake Lanier in September, the first time it's ever been held in the United States. The competition included more than 1,000 athletes from a dozen countries. - photo by Scott Rogers

Lake Lanier is host of the International Canoe Federation Dragon Boat World Championships set for Sept. 12-16. And it’s kind of a big deal.

What is a dragon boat, anyway?

Dragon boats are similar to canoes but longer, seating 12 or 22 people. Paddlers sit side-by-side on benches with a drummer and steerer in each boat. As the name suggests, there’s an ornate dragon head on the front of the boat and tail at the back, a design that originated with fishing boats in Asia 2,000 years ago. The boats are made of plastic and fiberglass. The 10-paddler boats weigh 374 pounds and cost $5,887 each; the 20-paddler boats weigh nearly 600 pounds and cost $6,750 each. The boats were newly purchased for this event by organizers, who will in turn sell them when the championships are completed.

And what’s happening during this event?

Teams from 14 countries, including France, Germany, Canada, Russia and Japan, will race in a variety of competitions at the Lake Lanier Olympic Park. Paddlers will compete in various age groups — Junior, Senior and Master, 40-plus and 50-plus — in 10- and 20-paddler boats, men, women and mixed, at both 500- and 2,000-meter lengths. Various heats and time races will be held with the top qualifiers advancing to the semifinals and finals. Winners will be crowned in medal ceremonies throughout the weekend.

This sounds like the Olympics. When are opening ceremonies?

Officials tell us this event is on par with the scale of paddling and rowing events held there during the 1996 Summer Olympics. As far as opening ceremonies, you can expect a parade of athletes, dancing and Elton John tribute artist Craig A. Meyer at the free event Wednesday, Sept. 12. Food will be available from food trucks and beverages from Tap It starting at 5 p.m. The ceremonies start at 6 p.m.

If I want to watch the racing, what’s the best time to go out there and what can I bring?

Races begin at 8 a.m. each day and run continuously through the afternoon, with medal ceremonies capping the day’s events. A full schedule is available online. Outside food and drinks are not allowed, but food will be available for purchase from these 16 food trucks. People are welcome to bring chairs and blankets; leashed pets are allowed. While the event is free to attend, parking is $10. Parking passes can be purchased online or with cash at the gate. Boaters are welcome to watch from the water, but there is no place to dock.

What can you tell me about Team USA?

Team USA has 112 athletes, with 29 coming from Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club. Coach Jim O’Dell, with LCKC, is also a coach for Team USA. Other Team USA athletes will be coming from all over the country, including Arizona, Texas and North Carolina. Tryouts were on Lake Lanier in July.

Is this going to cause traffic problems?

Slowdowns and congestion should be expected with the volume of traffic from spectators, athletes and volunteers, Derreck Booth, spokesman for the Hall County Sheriff’s Office, said. Officers also will be doing extra patrolling in the area.