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Aug. 14, 2018
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USA dragon boaters hope for World Cup win on Lanier

By Jane Harrison
 
Dragon Boat Team USA and their coaches predict USA paddlers will stroke their way to top honors in next month’s ICF Dragon Boat World Championship at Lake Lanier Olympic Park. A large contingent of local paddlers chosen for the National Team could chop their way to gold medals in the waters where they honed their skills. (See related story below.)
 
Upbeat team members mingled with their supporters and spoke enthusiastically about their world potential at a July 21 fundraiser hosted by Gainesville-Hall ’96 at the Brenau University Amphitheatre. The event, featuring party rock tunes, dinner and beer, exceeded the fundraising goal of $100,000, according to organizer Dixie Truelove.
 
The party, entitled “The Legacy Continues,” celebrated the upcoming paddling competition organizers claim will be the largest international sporting event on Lake Lanier since the 1996 Olympics. About 1,000 athletes from 16 countries will compete on the Olympic course where paddlers and rowers raced in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
 
“We’re super, super excited” that the first ICF Dragon Boat World Championship in North America is coming to Lake Lanier, said Mimi Collins, GH ’96 executive director. Organizers named a slew of local businesses who’ve thrown their support behind the event contributing toward the $600,000 total budget.
 
While sponsors and organizers strive for high marks on the world stage, athletes and coaches training for the championship look for top finishes among long boat competitors. Dragon Boat Southeast Region Coach Jim O’Dell and National Team Coach Mike Blundetto spoke about the strength of the U.S. team in a team sport that is still relatively new in this country.
 
“I think there’s a potential to win the Nation’s Cup,” the award for the most overall team points, Blundetto said. “The caliber of athletes and confidence has never been higher,” said the 30-year dragon boat veteran.
 
“In a decade (working with) the national team, this is the best group I’ve ever seen,” O’Dell said. He and Blundetto, along with other Team USA officials, evaluated paddlers from around the country in a training camp at LLOP during the week of the party at Brenau. At camp’s conclusion, they confirmed 113 paddlers to fill 10- and 20-person boats in men’s and women’s juniors, seniors, and masters competition. About one-quarter of the team hails from LCKC.
 
It’s getting harder and harder every year” to make the team, said Jan Nicolosi-Fischer, 65 one of many from Tampa, Fla., who tried out. The 13-year dragon boater hoped to make the women’s masters 50+ years team. “Some have been paddling just a year, some for 17 … and we’re all joining together to represent the USA.”
 
Geri Nuevo, also from Tampa, said having the world championship on American waters gives Team USA an “amazing opportunity” to be the best in a sport that emerged more that 2,000 years ago in China.
 
“Of all the nations, it took the longest to take hold in the United States,” Blundetto said, noting the rise of dragon boat popularity in the U.S. The sport attracts hundreds of thousands of recreational paddlers who only board a boat at festival time, such as the Atlanta Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival the weekend before the world competition at LLOP.
 
The contrast between festival paddlers and world class dragon boaters is like “apples and oranges,” Blundetto said. Festivals put paddles in the hands of weekend warriors who line up in boats with friends and co-workers and struggle to paddle in sync with the beat of a drum.
 
Blundetto contrasted fest participants with high caliber athletes on the U.S. team “who paddle118 strokes a minute in complete precision … that’s about two strokes a second.”
 
The world championship on Lanier will combine serious athletic competition on the water with the all color, fun and entertainment dragon boat festival fans expect in the grandstands. Vendors, food, and entertainment will create a fest-like backdrop to the fast, furious competition on the Olympic channel.
 
The races, rooted in ancient Asian fishing village tradition, create a spectacle unlike that of any other watersport. Boats more than 30-feet long outfitted with carved or plastic dragon boat heads and tails get propelled by paddlers chopping in rhythm to a drummer pounding in the back of the boat. Sometimes photo finishes declare the winners.
 
The world event opens with a parade of nations at LLOP Sept.12 with greetings from ICF officials and local officials. Food truck dining and entertainment will follow. There is no charge to attend the opening ceremony or the competition. Parking is $10 a day, with multi-day passes available.

LCKC well represented on Team USA
 
A quarter of the dragon boaters racing in next month’s world championships on Lake Lanier got their training in waters where Olympians medaled 22 years ago. But, it wasn’t gold dust in the water that put them on course to stroke for Team USA; old school coaching, grueling workouts, and the drive to excel – elements that historically exude from the Lanier Canoe & Kayak Club – will put them on potential gold medal boats.
 
Sixteen-year-old Caleb Copper expressed traditional LCKC mentality on the eve of Team USA selection. “I have a really good goal … I’m going for gold,” said the young paddler who’ll strive for a top finish in a junior men’s boat.
 
Copper is among 29 current or former LCKC athletes who’ll race on the 113- member Team USA in the ICF Dragon Boat World Championships Sept. 13-16 at Lake Lanier Olympic Park. “I’m so very proud of our athletes here at LCKC,” said Jim O’Dell, who has helped train club athletes for more than a decade. O’Dell, Southeast Regional coach for the national organization and chairman of Dragon Boat USA, believes LCKC athletes will help lead the way toward the Nation’s Cup in world competition.
 
O’Dell, Team USA Head Coach Mike Blundetto and other national team officials evaluated team hopefuls during a 3-day selection camp at LLOP in late July. Before announcing the cuts, O’Dell said they faced a difficult task winnowing the team from the best athletes they’ve seen in a decade. He said it took more than “eight hours pouring over data, videos, and notes from selection camp” to decide who’ll race for the US on juniors, seniors and masters teams.
 
All but two of junior team members are current LCKC paddlers, O’Dell said. “A couple others used to paddle at the club though half of those selected are stand-alone dragon boaters who have come up through our festival to the next level,” he added.
 
O’Dell credited old school training and assistant coach Charlie Tisle for LCKC athletes’ success. “We are some of the best, if not the best, prepared athletes for Team USA.  They get weekly training plans from me and I hear from those doing them that even the land based training is tough,” he said. “We are on the water two times per week with loads of land-based weights and cardio in eight-week cycles. This is unique to our group.”
 
LKCK-associated athletes making the team are:
  • Juniors: Aaron Dickson, Alec Wilson, Allen Marsh, Andrew Surles, Caitlin Marsh, Caleb Copper, Drew Deppe, Ethan Deppe, Jackson Hickerson, Joshua Burchardt, Lucas Pitts, Maggie Bowmar, Nate Boyd, and Paige Farley-Klacik.
  • Seniors: Cannie Colburn (Ash), Martin Corban, Ethan Jackson, Ethan Palmer, Macy Dwyer, Olivia Clark, and Tina Young.
  • Masters: Anne Blanchard, Dave Bittenbender, Enoy Chanlyvong, Jim O’Dell, Laurie Moore, Sean Allen, and Vladimir Samoylenko.
  • Junior Assistant Coach: Charlie Tisle.
 
ICF Dragon Boat World Championships Schedule
• Sept. 9-11: Team Arrivals/Practice
• Sept. 12: 6 p.m. Opening Ceremony, Lake Lanier Olympic Park
• Sept. 13: 500 Meter qualifying
• Sept. 14: 500 Meter finals, 200 meter qualifying
• Sept. 15: 200 Meter finals
• Sept. 16: 2000 Meter finals, closing ceremony

Posted online 7/27/18
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