Pan American Championships
When: Thursday through Sunday
Where: Lake Lanier Olympic Park, Clarks Bridge Park, 3105 Clarks Bridge Road, Gainesville
More information: www.lakelanierolympicvenue.org
Some of the world’s best athletes and their coaches, friends, families and fans filled the Brenau University Pearce Auditorium on Wednesday evening for a historic event.
The local and international guests filled the auditorium for the opening ceremonies of the 2016 Pan American Championships at the Lake Lanier Olympic Park.
“For the athletes of the Americas, this is the second and last chance on the road to Rio,” said Cecilia Farias, president of Pan American Canoe Confederation. “It will be the end or the fulfillment of the Olympic dream to qualify for and represent their countries at the Olympic Games Rio 2016. They are the embodiment of the dreams of all canoe/sprint athletes, and we wish them the best of luck during this competition.”
Mimi Collins, chair of the host committee Gainesville-Hall 96, called the opportunity for Gainesville and Hall County to host the Pan Am games “thrilling.”
“We are so excited that you all are here, and thank you for taking the time to participate,” Collins said. “For all those volunteers that are here, thank you for all you do to make this happen. For you athletes and the countries here, it has been a journey, I know, for all of you. We are so proud to host this event.”
Collins gave some history of the committee and the Lake Lanier Olympic Park to the guests in attendance.
“Gainesville-Hall 96 hosted the 1996 Olympics for rowing and canoe/kayak events,” she explained. “It was a wonderful opportunity for this community, and we invested emotionally and financially into that effort.”
Collins said, over the years, the community continued to invest in the Olympic venue, which was recently renamed the Lake Lanier Olympic Park.
“We are the only surviving Olympic venue from the 1996 Olympics that is still being used for the purpose it was developed for,” she said. “That is such a huge accomplishment for this community, for the sport and for all the passion we have here in the community.”
Farias commended the park for investing in the sport in the 20 years since the ‘96 Olympics.
“I can say with great satisfaction that the Lanier Olympic venue fulfilled the expectations of the Olympic legacy along the past 20 years,” she said.
Gov. Nathan Deal and first lady Sandra Deal also attended the opening ceremonies, and the governor said he hoped all the athletes and visitors would have a great experience in Gainesville.
Deal said Gainesville was nicknamed "the friendliest community in the world" during the 1996 Olympics.
“I hope that you experience that same hospitality while you are here,” he said. “To those of you who are athletes, to your coaches and your families, I know you are all very pleased to be here and we’re pleased you’re here as well. We know you have worked hard to be here and that you will continue to compete vigorously during these next few days.”
The event was emceed by Chris Wright, and other guest speakers included Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan and Hall County Commissioner Billy Powell.
Highlights also included a performance by Dance Brasil, a featured performance by Grammy winner Mike Farris and the Roseland Rhythm Revue, plus a parade of nations, during which Wright announced the name of every participating nation, while athletes and their flags processed into the Brenau auditorium.
Deal said the athletes present represented not only their nations, but they also embodied the Olympic motto, “Citius, Altius, Fortius,” meaning “faster, higher, stronger.”
“I wish that for all of you,” Deal said. “And I wish you the greatest success.”