One by one, the last monuments to Atlanta’s 1996 Olympics have come down.
Recently, it was the tennis stadium at Stone Mountain, where Andre Agassi and Lindsay Davenport won gold medals. This fall, the Georgia Dome, dwarfed and abandoned by the billion-dollar monolith next door, will follow. In addition to serving as home to pro and college football, it was where gymnast Kerri Strug won gold for the U.S. team with a winning vault on a gimpy ankle.
Even the original Olympic stadium, which later became Turner Field, is being repurposed for Georgia State football.
Of the dozens of venues that played host to events that magical summer, only a few remain in place for the sports they were built to hold: the equestrian center in Conyers, Georgia Tech’s scaled-down aquatic center and, most notably, the rowing and canoe/kayak at Lake Lanier Olympic Park on Clarks Bridge Road. And of those, the Lanier site is the only one that still may turn out Olympians.
One has already passed through, 2012 Olympic canoeist Tim Hornsby, who trained with the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club and competed in London. Don’t bet a nickel he’ll be the last.
Last week, paddlers from the LCKC captured the team title and numerous individual awards at the USA Sprint Canoe/Kayak National Championships in Clermont, Fla. Out of 27 teams, Lanier won the team championship by nearly 400 points over the next team. Lanier brought 49 athletes to the Sprint Championships and won 42 golds, 30 silvers and 31 bronzes — pure dominance for a club known as a powerhouse in its sport.
“We were expecting good results, but I was a little surprised by how good across the board we were as far as the team points,” Coach Karen Scholz said. “We also had the highest point-winner in almost every age category. ... There were gasps in the room when the scores were announced.”
Several individual paddlers qualified for the Olympic Hopes Regatta set for September in the Czech Republic: Paige Farley-Klacik, Natalie Brunson, Edward Surles, Caleb Copper, Walker Peck, Andrew Surles, Lisa Swenson and Caitlin Marsh.
In the Sprint Championships, Farran Smith was the top points earner, followed by Owen Farley-Klacik in third and Kevin Rochester in fifth.
Other winners included best male Bantam canoeist, Rochester; best male Juvenile canoeist, Edward Surles; best female Junior kayaker, Smith; best male Junior kayaker, Owen Farley-Klacik; best male senior K2 team kayakers, Stanton Collins and Aaron Mullican; and best male senior K4 kayakers, Owen Farley-Klacik, Drew Deppe, Collins and Mullican.
From these paddling stars, the club eventually could get its next Olympian and shot at a medal, possibly even in Tokyo in 2020.
The credit for the team’s success goes to the athletes and coaches, but also to the continued excellence of a venue praised by competitors since the first pre-Olympic competitions were held there. The renovation of Olympic Park that began last year has helped restore it to its 1996 glory, giving young athletes a world-class facility to hone their craft.
Last summer, local officials and key figures from the ’96 Games gathered at the venue to celebrate its rebirth and Hall County’s role in the Centennial Games, one that earned uniform praise from Atlanta organizers, including Olympic chief Billy Payne himself. Even then, many may not have realized that the venue’s impact on the Olympics may not yet be done.
We salute the paddlers who shone so brightly last weekend in Florida, and wish them Godpseed —and lots of speed — in the next round of their Olympic pursuits.
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