Lake Lanier hopes to awaken a sleeping dragon in 2018

Organisers of this year’s International Canoe Federation Dragon Boat World Championships concede the sport is only in its infancy in the USA, but 22 years after the Atlanta Olympics introduced many Americans to canoe sprint, they hope the same venue will stir similar emotions this year.

Germany’s Birgit Fischer was the toast of the Lake Lanier community in 1996, winning the fifth of her eight Olympic canoe sprint gold medals. So rapt was the local community by the sport, it had no hesitation putting its hand up to host the 2003 World Championships.

Since then its been a bit of drought, literally and metaphorically, for major international events at Lake Lanier. It’s hosted several USA canoe/kayak national championships, and the 2016 Pan-American Championships, but for the rest of the world, it’s been too long!

That will all change in September of this year, when the popular water playground hosts a World Championships which will attract athletes and fans from around the world.

Stacey Dickson is President of the Lake Lanier Convention and Visitors Bureau, and is pretty excited to be having the world returning to her backyard for the 2018 Dragon Boat World Championships.

“Our mission is to sustain Lake Lanier Olympic Park's status as a world class training and competition facility for flatwater sport of all types,” Dickson said.

“Hosting a world class event like the ICF Dragon Boat World Championship confirms our park's status and allows us to continue sharing our beautiful racing water with elite athletes from across the globe.

“We hope to also increase local interest and awareness of dragon boating to help grow the sport.”

2018 will be the first time the Dragon Boat World Championships will be held in the Americas. It’s a brave new world for Dickson and her team, and for the sport generally.

Dragon Boating is huge in Asia, and very popular in Europe and Oceania. The 1996 Olympics sparked growth in the popularity of sprint canoe in the US, and Dickson is doing everything possible to make sure as many people as possible get to experience this ancient sport.

“Since this is the first time the event has been held in the USA, we are working hard to overcome the costs for participants by bringing in sponsors,” Dickson said.

“Since dragon boat is a fairly new sport on this side of the world, we are doing a lot of education about the sport to local citizens and business leaders to get their support.

“Interest in growing. There is a learning curve about the sport on the local, regional and national level. We are engaging people through public speaking engagements, demonstrations of the sport and with pop up displays at local/regional events where large crowds are gathered.”

Organisers are promising not just great racing, but also plenty of traditional ‘Southern Hospitality’. They want to make sure people leave Lake Lanier with a positive impression, and plans to return.

“Our community is well versed in hosting people from across the globe for events like this,” Dickson said.

“We've been a world sporting destination since the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games and have learned how to create an environment that combines the best racing water in the world with a friendly, safe and comfortable venue for athletes to be able to perform at their highest capabilities.

“And at this year’s World Championships, they can expect fun. We are going to have a lot of fun. Music, food, dance and gorgeous weather will be waiting on the athletes to arrive.”

The 2018 ICF Dragon Boat World Championships will be held at Lake Lanier, Georgia, from September 12-16.

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