Four Summer Olympic spots go out during Day 3 of Pan American Games at Lake Lanier Olympic Park
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Lake Lanier athletes were in several Pan American Championships finals on Saturday, but it wasn’t until the mid-afternoon senior men four-man kayak (K4) 1,000 meter race that local paddlers stood proudly on the awards podium as the American flag was raised behind them.
Winning bronze for Team USA were two Gainesville men, Stanton Collins and Aaron Mullican, who were joined by Shawn Kaho’okele from Hawaii and Tim Burdiak from California, for a time of 3 minutes, 32.96 seconds.
For Collins, it was his second Pan Am medal having won gold two years ago in Mexico City in the K2 500. But to medal at home at Lake Lanier Olympic Park was especially sweet.
“This is my first medal in an Olympic-distance event. It’s awesome to win a medal but extra special to get it while your family is here watching,” said Collins.
In the final race of the day, LCKC paddler Farran Smith teammed with Samantha Barlow of the San Diego Canoe & Kayak club for a second place finish (4:22.52) in the Senior women’s K2 1,000 race. The US tandem finished 5 seconds behind the winners Hannah Marie Vaughan and Lisa Bissonnette from Canada.
In the K4 1,000, Mullican said it was nice to have a home-lake advantage. “Despite a strong head wind, we knew the water and performed well.
Kaho’okele, who hails from Oahu, has been training with the U.S. team in Florida since February and on Lake Lanier since March.
“It’s an accomplishment for sure,” he said of his first Pan Am medal showing. “And it’s great to earn it against competitors like Argentina and Brazil,” who won gold and silver, respectively.
Burdiak joined them here to train three weeks ago. “This is my first year on the team, so to win a bronze medal is awesome.” He said it’s extra poignant because two-time Olympian Cliff Meidl is his mentor since they grew up on the same street and attended the same Los Angeles-area high school though generations apart. Meidl is the commentator for the Pan American Championships this week. “To have Cliff watching and announcing the race and ceremony makes it so special for me.”
For Collins and Mullican it was a dream come true to medal in the Pan Am games in front of a hometown crowd that was more robust under Saturday’s sunny skies. Visiting athletes Burdiak and Kaho’okele say they love the local lake and Olympic venue.
Kaho’okele said even though he’s from “paradise” that Lake Lanier is its own kind of paradise for kayakers and canoers. “It’s great water to compete on. The times are fast and that’s what matters.”