As the afternoon sun shone on the Clarks Bridge Park rowing venue, Nils Thompson sought shade at the venue’s tower.
“It’s great to be back,” said Thompson, the director of the John Hunter Regatta, which returned Saturday to Lake Lanier after a four-year stint at an Oak Ridge, Tenn., venue.
“We’re a Georgia regatta,” Thompson said. “This is a great place for us to be.”
Spectators’ cars from across the state and as far as Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Florida packed the Clarks Bridge Park parking area to attend the college and high school rowing event.
Rowers came from even farther, with teams from Kansas, Louisiana, Illinois and Ohio included among the 971 athletes who participated in the 21st annual event.
Of them, Atlanta’s own Georgia Tech seemed to be cleaning up most of the events. Tech’s crew has been a part of the annual regatta since its start in 1986, Saturday, it won all of the events it entered in the morning events, coach Rob Canavan said.
As the afternoon events began, Canavan said that the Lake Lanier event was the nearest to Georgia Tech of the eight regattas that the team would travel to this spring.
“We love this course,” Canavan said.
Dan McNair, coach of the Roswell-based Saint Andrew Rowing Club, which co-sponsored the event with Georgia Tech, said that the Lake Lanier venue is a good central location that allows families and friends of Southeastern crew members to travel easily to watch them row.
The history of the venue, the site of the 1996 Olympic rowing events, enhanced the experience, said McNair, who once competed on the venue in 1995.
Canavan said Saturday’s regatta drew crews that the Georgia Tech crew had not yet seen.
Canavan agreed with McNair that the chance to compete on a former Olympic rowing course draws a lot of crews to Gainesville. But he said the chance to compete against his team was also a draw for other crews.
“We draw some competition in,” Canavan said.
Originally called the Atlanta Rowing Festival, the John Hunter Regatta began in 1986 as a collegiate rowing competition for a handful of Southern universities.
In the 1990s, the event grew to more than 750 athletes, 20 college teams and 12 high school-age youth teams.
In 1999, the regatta changed its name to honor John Hunter, a rowing fan and benefactor to the Georgia Tech and Saint Andrew clubs.
In 2002, the regatta was moved to the Lake Lanier course that served as site of the 1996 Olympic rowing and paddling events. The Lake Lanier Rowing Club joined with Saint Andrew and Georgia Tech to serve as hosts of the fast-growing event.
The increased capacity of the Olympic venue drew more than 2,500 spectators and 1,200 rowers, representing more than 35 colleges and youth teams from throughout the Southeast.
Thompson has been with the event since the beginning.
“I enjoy seeing it come together,” he said.