US Canoe/Kayak Sprint National Championships
Where: Lake Lanier Olympic Venue, Gainesville
When: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday
Admission and parking: Free
For complete results: www.nationals.lckc.org
For 2016 Summer Olympic hopeful Chris Miller, the USA Canoe and Kayak Sprint National Championships are a spirited and friendly competition, and not the demanding slate of rigorous competitions in Europe he’s already been exposed to this summer.
Miller likes this weekend’s competition to proudly display waters at the Lake Lanier Olympic Venue, and home course of the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club, but this docket of races on Lanier was more about reconvening with old friends.
“This (Lake Lanier) is the best venue for racing in the world,” said the 22-year-old Miller, who is from Gainesville, and specializes in the one-person and K-2, 1,000 meter distance.
The three-day event concludes today on Lake Lanier, three years after it last hosted the same event.
Since this is Miller’s ninth appearance racing in a National Championship race, he knows the camaraderie that goes with canoe and kayak, even though visitors to Hall County this week came from all corners of the U.S.
The Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club has the largest contingent with 93 members. Teams from South Florida to Seattle, and San Diego to Minnesota also made the trek to the home course of the 1996 Atlanta Games Canoe and Kayak events. The longest trip to Hall County was the Hawaii-based Wyc Ikaika Club, which brought 20 paddlers on the approximately 10-hour plane trip to the East Coast.
“It’s really been an honor to compete here,” said 17-year-old Hawaii team member Kai’olu DeFries. “The whole setup for competing here on Lake Lanier is incredible.”
Miller appreciated getting to sleep in his own bed for such a busy weekend of paddling. Other teams, who had to haul trailers with boats for as long as three days to arrive in Northeast Georgia, didn’t have the same luxury.
Still, it’s already been a very busy summer for Miller. Since May, he’s been part of the World Cup No. 3 and Under-23 World Championships, both in Szeged, Hungary, along with training in Romania between the two important events. What sets the National Championship apart for Miller, as most other competitors would say, is the friendly spirit that carried into competition that opened Thursday on Lake Lanier.
“Here at the national championships, you know everyone by name when you get to the starting line,” Miller said.
Not everyone competing at the USA National Championship on Lake Lanier is trying to make the Olympic Games, like Miller.
Some are recreational paddlers who are full-time students. Others are just learning the sport at the developmental level, like paddlers in the juvenile and bantam classes.
Lake Lanier Olympic Venue manager and High Performance 1 LCKC coach Morgan House said the age for competition on Lake Lanier ranges from 11-80 at Nationals, while also staging races for paralympic athletes.
As of Friday, the LCKC was having a successful run with victories in bantam, senior men’s and numerous juvenile classes, among others. According to House, it’s taken a group of approximately 200 local volunteers to make the event run smoothly in all phases.
“It’s been a really fun time racing here,” said 15-year-old Azusa Murphy, who traveled with the Seattle Canoe and Kayak Club. “It’s nice to see everyone and have a friendly competition.”
During the middle of summer, high humidity and extreme heat would typically play to the advantage of athletes from Georgia who are looking to bring home medals. However, a high temperature of 79 on Friday, low humidity and intermittent wind turned into an equalizer for athletes from both warm and cold climates.
“The weather this weekend here has been awesome,” said 20-year-old Sean Barlow of the San Diego Canoe Kayak Team, who also competed on Lake Lanier during the 2011 National Championships. “The weather really feels like what we’re used to at home.
“I remember last time we were here, it was so hot, we were sitting in kiddie pools between races to stay cool.”
However, visitors to Lake Lanier from the Rice Creek Boat Club in New Brighton, Minn., which is in the northern suburbs of Minneapolis, were delighted to bask in the warm weather after a brutally cold winter.
Normally able to compete for only four months a year due to the harsh winters, 15-year-old Cassie Rogers said this year the temperature at home hit minus-50 this winter. The Rice Creek Club brought eight athletes to Hall County.
“Everything we’ve done in training this year has been to be ready for this event,” Rogers said.
Saturday, finals in 62 events will be conducted to wrap up the National Championships. In 2015, the event will be hosted by the San Diego Canoe Kayak Team.