With the white-and-blue International Canoe Federation flag waving above the Lake Lanier Olympic Venue Wednesday evening, the federation’s vice president opened the Dragon Boat World Championships for “the world’s best teams to show during the next four days great competition on this beautiful course.”
“Dragon boat is more than just a competitive sport. It’s part of a special lifestyle, it’s social interactions, it’s sharing of common experiences and learning to rely on each other,” said ICF vice president Thomas Konietzko.
The races are set for the next four days through Sunday, Sept. 16, with finals and medals ceremonies every day.
In his opening remarks, Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan thanked the numerous volunteers and planners on helping share Lake Lanier with the world.
“Your commitment and hard work is inspiring to all of us,” Dunagan said addressing the athletes. “It is a beautiful thing to see people from so many countries join together to share a common interest.
Hoisting their flags high, the participants walked along the venue in a parade of nations.
“It’s wonderful to see them all coming through. Just like watching the Olympics on TV, they all come marching through,” said Dennis Hartman, stepfather of regional Team USA coach Jim O’Dell.
Donning a red- and black-sequined jacket that sparkled at sunset, Craig Meyer kicked off the night with the “Remember When Rock Was Young — The Elton John Tribute.”
Members of the German team danced up and down the aisles while holding their nation’s flag. The Swiss team formed a dance circle to the side of the stage, where members of Team USA and Team Canada later joined.
“I love to see younger people like this doing good, because there is too much bad stuff going on today,” said O’Dell’s mother Helen Hartman.
Meyer and the tribute band rolled through a number of Elton John’s classic hits, including “Philadelphia Freedom” and “Bennie and the Jets.”
He addressed a number of the often misheard lyrics in the repertoire — most famously being held closely by Tony Danza — before running through “Tiny Dancer,” “I’m Still Standing,” “Your Song,” “Crocodile Rock,” and “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.