Every national championship event is special, but one that takes place where the Olympics once tread is something else entirely.
More than 1,000 collegiate rowers will take to the water and compete in the fourth American Collegiate Rowing Association National Championship Regatta, beginning at 8:30 a.m. Saturday at the Olympic Venue on Lake Lanier.
Like all national championships, this weekend's competitors are focused on winning a title; but unlike the others, this is also a chance to experience a taste of the Olympics.
And for the winners, it's a chance to glean a small measure of what it must feel like to win a medal on the world's biggest stage.
Adam Swetlik, coach of the University of Colorado men's club team, said this weekend will be the first time any Colorado rowing team has competed on a former Olympic venue and he can already tell the difference.
"This place is something more special than the other places we've been," Swetlik said. "There is a vibe here, and I haven't even gotten on the water yet."
Other notable teams competing include Georgia Tech Crew, Emory University Rowing and UGA Rowing Club, Georgia Tech is led by ACRA South Region Coach of the year Rob Canavan, and All-Region team members Sean Gibel and Matt Waters. Emory's Matt Lenert was also named to the All-Region team.
Along with the Olympic feeling Swetlik describes, the coach also said the functionality and logistics of the facility make it very attractive as a place of prime competition.
"It was built for Olympic competition, so the ramps are bigger, the facilities are set up specifically for rowing," Swetlik said. "A lot of other places are converted to suit rowing, but this place was built for it.
"And I can already tell the course is better than any other we've seen."
As a whole, Colorado sent 32 men and women to compete this weekend. And their manner of travel shows the importance of the event.
"We drove, straight-through from Boulder, 26 hours," Swetlik said. "Flying was too expensive for all of us, and we have a lot of rowers who deserve to be here."
John Martiniere, direct of the regatta for the host Lake Lanier Rowing Club, wasn't surprised as the distance the Colorado team drove.
"It's a national championship, so it draws a crowd," Martiniere said. "We'll have around 1,300 competitors and, while there's no way to be perfectly accurate, probably another 700-800 spectators."
This is the first time the ACRA National Championship has come to Gainesville, and Martiniere gave credit for its arrival to former LLRC coach Jim Pickens and University of Michigan men's coach Gregg Hartsuff, for making it happen.
"(Pickens) was approached by (Hartsuff) about having the championship at the Olympic venue, and it was unofficially agreed upon by the end of last year," Martiniere said. "It was made official in late March/early April of this year after a conference call put everyone's mind at ease."
ACRA Great-Lakes Region Coach of the Year Hartsuff, and Great Lakes All-Region rowers Nathan Bohn, Josh Getz, Stephen Lanham and Frank Sedlar, have lead the club to the top seed in the Men's Varsity 8, the final event of the competition.