20 years after the 1996 Games, Lake Lanier Olympic Park and the city of Gainesville hosted international competitors vying for a spot in the 2016 Olympic Games during the Pan American Championship.
Spectators from across Georgia and the Southeast brought cheers, chants and pride for their favorite countries and athletes to the city of Gainesville for the Pan-American Championships held May 19-22. This event, free for spectators, was the last Continental Olympic Qualifier before the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. These games kicked off Gainesville’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of the 1996 Olympic Games as teams competed for an allotted number of slots from the Americas to send to Brazil in August.
Before the Oct. 2014 announcement that Lake Lanier would host the Pan Am Games, months of planning and official bidding took place. Gainesville and Hall County officials, Lake Lanier Olympic Venue and the Gainesville-Hall County ‘96 Roundtable, joined forces to plan and ensure a successful $1.1 million venue renovation to host more than 250 kayakers and canoeists from North, South and Central America. This money came from local donors, city and county funds and a regional grant.
“We had to show that we could accommodate the athletes with housing and proper equipment,” said Lake Lanier Olympic Venue Manager Morgan House. After a stringent bid process, beating out cities in both Canada and Brazil, the committee began planning logistics and devising marketing strategies.
Now that the Pan Ams are over, the planning team is looking toward the Rio on the Water event taking place on Friday, August 5. The event’s “Renewal of the Olympic Spirit” theme embodies the excitement and is reminiscent of the anticipation felt by residents and organizers of the 1996 Olympic Games that introduced Lake Lanier to the world. “It’s really the idea of celebrating the Olympics,” House said. “Lake Lanier Olympic Venue is the only venue still operating for its original purpose since ‘96.”
During the celebration, guests will be greeted with a Brazilian Carnival of Entertainment including drummers and Samba by Dance Brazil along with food, drink, music and dance. The Opening Ceremonies of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio will be streamed live. There will also be a Parade of Honor for the volunteers that helped make the 1996 Olympic Games possible.
According to House, the Road to Rio celebrations will bring in a projected $10 million for the entire fiscal year. The events and recreational options offered by the venue will boost resident and community morale and desire to live a more active life. “It’s going to be great for everyone to participate in cultural and build that quality of life,” said Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan.
In addition to the Pan American Games, the Lake Lanier Olympic Venue hosted several Canoe/Kayak/Rowing Championships, and is slated to host the 2018 Dragon Boat World Championships. Dunagan encourages Georgia residents to visit the venue and the city of Gainesville as both a spectator of one of the many canoe, kayaking or rowing events and as a participant in paddle boarding, fishing, swimming and other watersports. “It keeps all our citizens excited and gives you something to relax, watch and enjoy,” He said.