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Dragon boats fly across Lake Lanier
Dragon boat teams get ready to push off from the dock Saturday at the Olympic venue at Clarks Bridge Park. - photo by Tom Reed

Watch out. Some dragons mean business.

At least the people steering them do.

Dragon boat paddlers, steerspersons and drummers were ready for a fight to the finish Saturday morning at the Lanier Dragon Boat Racing Series Final at Clarks Bridge Park.

"What we have had during the summer is a racing series," said Rich Stewart, the program coordinator for the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club. "Basically, you practice one weekend, and you race the next."

Stewart said some participants have pretty much never paddled before, while others are on the National Dragon Boat team. Competitors included youths and some paddlers in their 70s.

"Everyone has been excited about the final day of racing," Stewart said. "It is a little hot this morning, which is going to make it kind of rough, but everyone has been improving, which is exciting to see."

"I'm excited to see what we are going to do with these teams that have never practiced together," participant Cathy O'Dell said.

Her husband, Jim O'Dell, actually qualified to go to the World Championship, set for August in Hungary.

Jim O'Dell said that coaching and training chairman Mike Blundetto went around the nation testing to see how strong a paddler is using a device called the Merlin Data Acquisition Paddle.

"They tested over 500 people around the U.S., and they took the top 60," said Jim O'Dell, who considers it to be a "very humbling" honor to have qualified.

O'Dell said that he is getting pumped about representing the U.S. in an international event.

"I have been told by people who have been there before: Take a moment, look around you, soak it in and then focus, and that's exactly what I'm going to do," he said.

In Saturday's event, the Mekong Dragons, the defending champions, repeated their first-place glory. The Drag Racers took second and third went to Dragon Tools, the combined team of Kipper Tools, Dragon Boat Atlanta and Gainesville First United Methodist Church.

After the race, a dragon boat clinic was offered to teach steering.

"We want to make sure that we have proper steerspersons because once these boats get moving, they can be pretty hard to steer," Stewart said.

Some of the participants now will prepare for The Atlanta Dragon Boat Festival scheduled for Sept. 11.