0711gamesAUDListen to Georgia State Games publicity director Tanya Meyers talks about the idea behind the Georgia State Games.
The 2008 Summer Olympics are still a month away, but that’s not preventing a few local athletes from competing for gold.
From roller hockey to softball and badminton to billiards, Georgia residents young and old will be competing this weekend in the 2008 Georgia State Games, an Olympic-style festival promoting health and wellness.
“Our participants come from Valdosta to Hall County,” said Tanya Meyers, publicity director for the Games. “This is open to all ages and all skill levels. Everyone in Georgia is welcome. It’s something the entire community can get involved in and learn about sport.”
The Games began on May 17 with the BB gun competition and conclude on July 26 with the Run for Life event, which benefits the Georgia Sports Foundation’s fight against childhood obesity. With more than 1,000 participants, the Run for Life is by far the largest competition at the Games.
Outside of the Run for Life, the competitors at the Games are there not only to learn about and share a love of sport, but to compete for medals, as well.
Like the Olympics, the Georgia State Games hand out gold, silver and bronze medals to the top three finishers in each division of every event.
“It’s good competition,” said Jim Coleman, who is participating in the racquetball event that begins today and concludes Sunday. “You’re down there all day playing against different people.”
After placing first and winning a gold medal as a beginner in his first Georgia Games in 2001, Coleman has moved up to the B division this year, where he once again hopes to bring home the gold.
“I’ll pretty much be competing against some of the best players in the state,” Coleman, 27, said of the single elimination tournament. “It’s a good experience and I’m going to try my hardest to finish first.”
While Coleman is trying to advance in the racquetball tournament at the Athletic Club Northeast in Atlanta, a few miles away, fellow Gainesville resident Stephen Dean will be taking to the streets of Union City to compete in the cycling road race.
Like Coleman, Dean is familiar with the Georgia Games, having participated in the event for the past five years. Initially, the 28-year-old competed in the mountain bike races, but has switched to road races in recent years.
“In events like the road race, you pretty much know you are competing against the best in the state,” Dean said. “If I could win certainly that would be a priority, but really I just want to do the best I can.”
While he said he prefers the road race, Dean is also competing in Sunday’s cycling criterium, an event he called “NASCAR on a bicycle.”
In the race, competitors ride in a mile-long circle for a specific number of laps, which according to Dean, proves to be rather risky.
“I enjoy criterium, but they’re very dangerous,” he said of the race that will be held at West Oak Business Park in Marietta. “There’s usually a lot of crashes because people are riding so close together and going all out from the start.”
Gainesville is also involved in the Games, with the Lake Lanier Olympic Center playing host to this weekend’s rowing events.
“It’s a great location to host the rowing events, especially in a year when we have the Olympics going on,” said Matthew Augeri, the Games regatta director. “There’s a huge Olympic tower and huge grandstands and you really get the whole Olympic feel there.”
According to Augeri, while the rowing events have been held at the Olympic Center before, this year will be the first time that they will be held on the Olympic side of the venue.
“The only thing not being used is the full rowing course,” he said. “We’ll be using a simplified version.”
More than 120 people will participate in the six different rowing events on the 1,000-meter course.
The top three in each age and skill division will take home a medal, but according to Meyers, that’s only half of what the Games are all about.
“Part of the Games is not only teaching kids how to be competitive, but also have fun with it,” Meyers said.
That mentality has people like Dean ready to participate every year.
“I love it and I hope they keep the state Olympic thing,” he said. “I think it’s an effort to be more active and be more involved in physical activity.
“In most competitions, it’s about the prize money,” he added. “But here people don’t do it for the money, they do it for the love of competition.”