Sunday marked the close of the 2016 Pan American Games at Lake Lanier Olympic Park. Over four days, competitors from all over North, Central and South America gathered at the venue to compete for a spot in the upcoming Rio Olympics, and by all accounts, the event was quite successful.
“Minus the weather on Thursday and Friday, it’s gone very smooth,” said Tate O’Rouke, director of volunteers. “We have had a tremendous outpouring of community support from all across Hall County and beyond.”
O’Rouke explained that the success of the event is due in large part to engagement from the community and the energy put forward by over 300 from all across Georgia.
She said 95 percent of the workers during the event were unpaid volunteers, helping with a range of tasks from carrying boats to providing help with translation.
“Without them, it would not have gone so smoothly,” Lake Lanier Olympic Park Manager Morgan House said.
House and his staff painstakingly trained volunteers to uphold the title of “Hospitality Capital of the World” given to Gainesville in 1996, and his opinion was they pulled it off nicely.
According to House, nearly every team expressed gratitude toward the venue for how well the athletes were treated by volunteers and staff.
“I have been talking to the teams, asking, ‘How are you doing? Are you comfortable?’ And they are all just ecstatic to be here,” House said.
One foreign visitor, Brazilian coach Alvaro Acco Koslowski, commented through a translator that this event felt much different than any other regatta he has attended in his many years competing.
“In past, the teams will just compete, do the competition and go back to the hotel,” Koslowski said. “Here when you finish a race, volunteers will give you a snack, or coffee, or drink. And that’s a big step up for this sport.”
Koslowski, a 30-year veteran of the canoe and kayak world, is certain that he and his team will be back in Gainesville before the 2020 Olympics.
Ian Ross, a Team USA kayaker with the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club, thinks that one of the reasons teams seem to enjoy competing at Lake Lanier Olympic Park could be because it’s one of the best in the world.
“The nice thing about this course is that it’s a fair course,” Ross said. “I think all the athletes today will go home happy, not necessarily with the results that they want, but knowing that it was a fair race.”
Ross was personally disappointed with his own performances earlier in the weekend, but rallied and managed to win a silver medal in Sunday’s Senior Men’s 500-meter canoe (C1) event.
Ross said that many young athletes like himself have a hard time facing off against international teams with more experienced athletes.
“For me, just being on the podium isn’t good enough, and being fourth definitely isn’t good enough,” Ross said.
“I want to really make a mark in this sport, so I’m not going to give up until that happens.”
Ross still has a good chance to be considered for the Rio games, but like many young athletes, his end goal is the 2020 or 2024 Olympics.
Team USA coach Claudiu Ciur said that many of the junior athletes in the 16 to early 20s age range, who weren’t 100 percent ready for the Pan Am games, will certainly be ready for the 2020 games. In his mind, the team is a young generation, that needs time and strong competition from the international community.
“As a coach, I do my best to give them a plan and keep them moving forward,” Ciur said.