Jim Mathis Jr., a Gainesville banker, was one of the key players in bringing the Olympics to Lake Lanier as chairman of the Gainesville-Hall County Roundtable that later became the Gainesville Hall ’96 Committee.
How did you first become involved in the Olympic effort here?
In 1992, I was asked by the city of Gainesville to help compile a book of possible sites and services that might be used in support of the Olympic efforts in Atlanta. From this emerged the need for team training facilities, family and team housing and the realization that this should be a communitywide effort. The Gainesville-Hall ’96 Roundtable was established as an inclusive organization and began its efforts to organize the community.
Local rower Jack Pyburn came up with the idea of actually hosting rowing and canoe-kayak events on Lake Lanier. Soon we hosted the Southeastern Youth Regatta with 512 rowers. Later that year, the German National Team used Lake Lanier to train for the World Rowing Championships to be held in Indiana that summer. This was the beginning of our quest to host the 1996 Olympic rowing and flatwater canoe-kayak competition.
What is your fondest or most vivid memory from the Games?
Two great memories: First was the day the headline in The Times read “It’s Lanier” announcing our selection to host the Olympic competition.
Second: the thousands of new and old friends who helped make our experience rich for everyone. This resulted in NBC sports commentator Charlie Jones proclaiming Gainesville-Hall the “Hospitality capital of the world.” Friends from all over the world remember their Olympic experience.
How has your involvement in the Games affected you since?
To see a true Olympic Legacy take hold at the Lake Lanier venue is gratifying. For 20 years, the two clubs have hosted hundreds of events both large and small, national and international.
Today, the Olympic venue thrives under the leadership of GH ’96 and venue manager Morgan House. The venue is one of the few remaining sports venues from the 96 Games. This is largely thanks to the communitywide support established during the summer of 1996.