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Culture, competition ride Laniers waves in Dragon Boat event
Annual boat festival draws crowds to Olympic venue
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Team Accenture make their way back to the dock following a race early Saturday morning at the Lake Lanier Olympic Center during the Atlanta Hong Kong Dragon Boat Atlanta Festival.

Hall County residents may be used to a variety of boats on Lake Lanier, but thousands watched several unusual crafts on the lake Saturday during the 19th annual Atlanta Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival.

Dragon boat racing in China dates back more than 2,000 years, according to the Atlanta Dragon Boat Festival. The colorfully painted and crafted boats have been part of the sport that’s increased in popularity across the world since the 1970s.

The daylong event Saturday at the Lake Lanier Olympic Venue included races throughout the day, displays of several Chinese traditions and a variety of Asian talent presentations.

The dragon boats were blessed by Buddhist monks, and Gainesville city councilwomen Ruth Bruner and Myrtle Figueras participated in the “dotting of the eye” ceremony.

“The eye-dotting ceremony has a lot of tradition in the Chinese culture and the sport of dragon boat racing,” said Gene Hanratty, Atlanta Dragon Boat Festival chairman of the board and founder. “They paint the eye of the dragons and it symbolizes the awakening of the dragons.”

More than 50 teams participated in the competition, including representatives from collegiate, financial, international, manufacturing and recreational backgrounds.

Moorthy Thangavel, a Home Depot employee, participated in the 250-meter race with the Home Depot Orange Dragons. Thangavel said his team placed third last year in the international division, but it didn’t place this year. Regardless, he said he enjoys the event.

“I wanted to be on the team to help support the Orange Dragons and be part of it all,” he said.

Kevin Donahue and wife Marcie of Duluth said this was their first year attending the event.

“We came out to watch and think it’s a lot of fun,” he said. “I think we’ll do it next year.”

Steve Barclay, director of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in New York, attended the event Saturday and addressed the thousands gathered during the opening ceremony.

“This is the end of my first month here in the United States of America and this is my first trip outside of New York,” he said. “I am absolutely delighted to be here.”

Barclay credited the event’s many sponsors and all those who participated for making it such a success.

“It’s a wonderful event,” he said. “I really didn’t know what to expect, but it’s very impressive.”

Hanratty said while this year’s event was well-planned and attended, they hope to make next year’s even bigger and better.

“Next year will be our 20th,” he said. “We promise to make that a very special festival.”

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