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Nov. 20, 2018
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World Dragon Boat Championships

 
By Jane Harrison
 
Fury on the water and fun, flavor, and fusion in the grandstands will ignite Lake Lanier Olympic Park Sept. 12-16 in a multi-nation contest unlike any other on the lake. The International Canoe Federation Dragon Boat World Championships will bring thousands of competitors and spectators to what organizers claim will be the largest international sporting event on Lanier since the 1996 Olympics.
 
About 1,000 athletes from 16 countries will sink paddles from long boats in rhythm to beating drums in fast and furious races in front of grandstands with cheering fans drenched in the aroma of exotic cuisine. A fiery opening ceremony Wednesday night will prelude three days of highly competitive racing, including what some describe as “NASCAR” style competition fueled by human strength, not motors.
 
The event is the second multi-country competition organized by Gainesville-Hall ’96 in two years. GH ’96 chair Mimi Collins and LLOP manager Robyn Lynch, along with board members from tourist bureaus, local businesses, and the paddling community labored for two years pulling together a one-of-a-kind celebration and competition. They met a fundraising goal of $200,000 to host the event.
 
Here’s what you need to know before heading to LLOP:
 
  • The Teams: Athletes, coaches and spectators will begin arriving in early September and hitting the water for practice Sept. 9-11. “They’ll be staying in local hotels, dining local and shopping local,” said Lynch, who estimated a $3-4 million economic boost. Teams will breakfast at hotels, get lunch at the park, and eat dinner around Gainesville. Participants besides the U.S. are Armenia, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Russia, Switzerland, and Ukraine.
  • Opening Ceremony: Expect a flamboyant evening fit for the inaugural U.S. hosting of the annual international tournament. Elton John tribute performer Craig A. Meyer will sparkle on the lakeside outdoor stage. The multi-talented singer/actor/pianist is perhaps best known for his star role in "Remember When Rock Was Young: The Elton John Tribute." Craig captures the music, costumes and charisma of Sir Elton John, who announced earlier this year he is retiring from touring. A beer and wine garden, food trucks, Pan Asian dancers and multi-cultural entertainment, plus a parade of athletes are packed into a ceremony that is free to attend. The gates open at 5 p.m., ceremony begins at 6 p.m at LLOP, 3105 Clarks Bridge Rd., Gainesville. Parking $10 per car, $20 for small buses. No onsite bus parking.
  • The Competition: Ten or twenty paddlers pile into long boats outfitted with dragon heads and tails and chop furiously toward the finish buoys in 200-, 500-, and 1000-meter races. A steerer and drummer bark commands and beat out a rhythm. Team USA, with about a quarter of its members affiliated with the Lanier Canoe & Kayak Club, is poised to win the Nation’s Cup awarded the top point getter.

The “Nascar” style 2,000 meter races are sure to stir the water big time. “Our 2,000 meter race is a blast!” said Jim O’Dell, LCKC paddler and Team USA Region Coach. “It is run in pursuit style; slowest qualifier starts first with next fastest 10 seconds behind up to the fastest beginning last. There are three turns so is a 400-plus meter sprint to a left turn. You can imagine the impact of having faster boats moving up to slower boats.”
 
All the action takes place right in front of the grandstands. “You can see every race,” Lynch said. Expect award ceremonies daily. Location: Lake Lanier Olympic Park, 3105 Clarks Bridge Rd., Gainesville.  Parking $10 per car, $20 for small buses. No onsite bus parking.
 
Race Schedule
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
 
Team USA race schedule was not complete as of late August. They will compete in 10 seat- Junior Men and Mixed (4 women, 6 men); Senior Men, Women and Mixed; Masters 40+ and 50+ Men, Women and Mixed categories in 200m, 500m, and 2,000m; 20 seat: Senior Men, Women and Mixed (8 women, 12 men); Masters Men, Women and Mixed 40+; Masters 50+ Mixed.
 
  • Closing Ceremony: At $20 per person, the Sept 16 closer on the Arts Council Smithgall Arts Center just off the Downtown Gainesville Square is a bargain. The Journey Tribute Band will crank out hits. Attendees get a barbecue dinner and non-alcoholic beverages. Local vendor Tap It will pour beer and wine for an extra charge. Music starts at 7 p.m. Tickets: www.lanierdragonboat2018.com, 770-534-2787.
  • Want to volunteer? As of late August, Lynch reported 150 volunteers had signed up, but more were needed to supervise parking, hold boats, help out with the athletes’ village at LLOP, and provide Southern hospitality to international visitors. Sign up at: www.lanierdragonboat2018.com.

 
The Lure of Dragon Boating
With its' over 2,000-year-old roots in Chinese lore, dragon boat racing is now a global phenomenon, with an estimated 72.5 million people paddling these crafts around the world, with a 22 percent increase in participation each year. Dragon boat races originated in an ancient Chinese fishing village. As the story goes, a well-loved patriot poet named Qu Yuan who lived during the 4th century B.C. was banished by corrupt court officials. Unable to cope with his sorrow, Yuan drowned himself in the Mi Lo River. Local fishermen raced out in their boats in attempt to save him but arrived too late. In order to lure fish away from the body, they beat the water with their paddles and tossed rice dumplings into the river. The dragon boat races are a re-enactment of the attempt to save Qu Yuan and have become a major part of Chinese culture, representing patriotism and group integrity.

Posted online 8/31/18
 
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