Lake Lanier Olympic Park Hosts 2016 Pan American Championships

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Lake Lanier Olympic Park in Gainesville, Georgia, will revive its Olympic roots this week when it hosts the 2016 Pan American Championships & Continental Olympic Qualifier. The event is the last continental qualifier before the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The Pan Am, happening May 19-22, couldn’t come at a better time for LLOP, as this year marks 20 years since the venue hosted the 1996 Centennial Olympics in Atlanta. The park, which was built to last through the ’96 Olympics and is still used today, is fresh off a $1.5 million renovation. The updates include ADA enhancements like new ramps and restrooms that will accommodate the 350 para athletes competing in the qualifier. The face-lift is just the cherry on top for the canoe, rowing and kayak groups headed to Lake Lanier. What’s really drawing groups is the lake’s smooth, flat waters, says Stacey Dickson, president of Lake Lanier CVB, noting there are more than 7,000 meters of straight, unobstructed channel at the park. “Now that we’re stepping up our infrastructure game, it puts the other U.S. destinations for canoeing, kayak and rowing on the edge of their seats,” she says. Lake Lanier won the bid for International Canoe Federation’s 2018 Dragon Boat World Championships, which will be of a similar scale to the rowing events held there during the 1996 Olympics. “There will be 3,000-plus athletes,” says Dickson. “It’ll be gigantic.” The park will receive a $10 million renovation, primarily focused on its boathouse, in time for the dragon boat competition. Most of the Pan Am’s athletes will stay at nearby Brenau University dorms, which house various soccer, lacrosse and cheer groups throughout the summer. But the dorms won’t be enough for the Dragon Boat Worlds. During the 1996 Olympics, which attracted more than 16,000 people to Gainesville, individuals in the community opened up their homes to around 200 athletes’ families looking for a place to stay, says Jim Mathis, president emeritus of North Georgia Community Foundation, who was essential in bringing the games to Gainesville. “That is still remembered by those families that hosted someone from the Olympics,” says Mathis.