Now that the volunteers, professionals and community leaders involved in staging the 2016 Pan American Championships at Lake Lanier Olympic Park two weeks ago have had a chance to catch their collective breaths and relax a bit, it’s time for them all to bask in the satisfaction that comes from a job well done.
Looking back from the perspective of a couple of weeks, it’s hard to imagine an international sporting event that could have gone any more smoothly than did the Pan Am Sprint Canoe/Kayak Championships, which were a continental qualifier for this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio.
That such was the case is a tribute to the efforts of hundreds of local residents, from the experts involved in the meticulous planning that makes such an event a reality, to the unpaid volunteers who gave freely of their time to make the Championships a huge success.
By the time the final race was over, visitors from around the world had been reminded of why Gainesville was dubbed the “Hospitality Capital of the World” when the 1996 Olympic competitions were held here.
The numbers associated with the 2016 Olympic qualifier are certainly impressive: Some 250 athletes representing 13 countries from around the world; attendance of more than 1,000 for the four-day event; some 300 volunteers helping to make athletes and spectators alike comfortable.
The competition served as both a showcase for improvements that have been made to Lake Lanier Olympic Park and a reminder of what an incredible and unique asset that facility is to North Georgia.
Perhaps most impressive, however, was how the entire community stepped up to make hosting of the Pan Am Championships memorable.
From the athlete housing provided by Brenau University to the snacks and drinks prepared and delivered by smiling volunteers, local residents went out of their way to provide a gold medal experience for all of those on hand.
Olympic Park manager Morgan House deserves credit for much of the event’s success, but he is quick to sing the praises of others, including Tate O’Rouke, who coordinated the army of volunteers; Stacey Dickson, Renee Carden and Jay Lawson from the Lake Lanier Convention and Visitors Bureau; Danielle Miller, who coordinated housing at Brenau; and Gladys Wyant of The Arts Council, who orchestrated opening ceremonies that drew rave reviews from those on hand. Members of the Lake Lanier Rowing Club and the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club, for whom the venue is a year-round home, also did their part to add to the luster and professionalism of the Pan Am Games.
Members of the Gainesville-Hall ’96 Board, who provide oversight for the venue, certainly deserve recognition for realizing the importance of an event as significant as the Pan Am Championships and then working tirelessly to make the experience one that exceeded the expectations of all involved. Mimi Collins, the board’s chair, provided shining leadership and was a gracious hostess of the prestigious event that she says continues Lake Lanier’s Olympic legacy. “We are the only surviving Olympic venue from the 1996 Olympics that is still being used for the purpose it was developed for,” she said. “That is such a huge accomplishment for this community, for the sport and for all the passion we have here in the community.”
Events like May’s games have a powerful economic impact on the area, and not just in terms of revenue generated while they are ongoing. When the Olympic Park venue receives praise and positive comments from competitors and team officials, the end result is more bookings for the park, bringing more visitors, and subsequently more economic gain, to the area.
Dr. Cecilia Farias, president of Pan American Canoe Confederation that presided over the competition, said, “I can say with great satisfaction that the Lake Lanier Olympic venue fulfilled the expectations of the Olympic legacy along the past 20 years.”
Alvaro Acco Koslowski, coach of the Brazilian Pan Am team, offered effusive words of praise for the entire experience and said his athletes would definitely be returning to the Lake Lanier Olympic Park in the future. Ian Ross, a Team USA Kayaker, said teams look forward to coming here to train and compete because the venue on Lake Lanier is one of the best in the world.
Further evidence of the venue’s success and national renown was again on display Memorial Day weekend, when it hosted the American Collegiate Rowing Association’s annual Championship Regatta, an event that brought to town more than 1,600 college athletes from all over the United States. This was the sixth year the event was held in Gainesville. Last year’s Regatta, slightly smaller than this year’s, was estimated to have had a $2 million economic impact on the area
Soon to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its role in the 1996 Olympic Games hosted by the city of Atlanta, Lake Lanier Olympic Park continues to be an exceptional addition to the Gainesville/Hall County community, one that has benefited greatly from the stewardship of those responsible for overseeing its operation. City and county officials are to be commended for recognizing the value of the venue and providing it with strong governmental support through the years.
For canoe and kayak athletes of North and South America, the local Pan Am Championships were the last chance on the road to Rio. They took home fond memories of their time here as well as medals.
The 2016 Pan Am Championships in Gainesville deserve a place high on the medal podium too, thanks to an exceptional venue and the buy-in of so many in our community willing to work together to provide a first-class experience for international and domestic athletes and their teams. All involved are deserving of gold medals for their efforts.