WomenCan International, an organization working to get equal representation of women’s canoe sporting events in the Olympics, says that sprint canoe/kayak debuted at the 1924 Olympics as an exhibition sport with three events each, but of the 12 events now in the Olympics, nine are kayak events and three are canoe events – all three of which are men’s.

Rio Chattahoochee

New Residence Halls Helps Attract Potential Olympics Athletes for 2016 Pan American Paddling Competition

By Karen Rosen

In May, 250 athletes and coaches from throughout North, Central and South America will come to the historic campus in Gainesville for the last qualifying event for kayakers seeking spots in the 2016 Olympic Games.

Doubling as a sort of “Olympic Village,” Brenau University’s historic campus and other Gainesville, Georgia, facilities will be the home away from home for athletes paddling for berths in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Representing 20 countries in the Western hemisphere, the canoers and kayakers will compete in events at the rowing venue in Gainesville, Georgia, that was built for the 1996 summer Olympics in Atlanta. The Georgia event is the last chance for those hoping to make it to Rio for the opening ceremonies on Aug. 5.

University officials joined with local government and civic organizers in a winning bid to host the 2016 Pan American Championships and Continental Olympic Qualifying Regatta at the rowing venue. The residential campus was the only facility large enough to economically handle housing, meal service and other needs of about 250 athletes and coaches who participated in the event. The participants – male and female – from North, Central and South America can book rooms May 16-22 in an “athletes’ village” on the campus.

Brenau’s part of the bid included a financial proposal for use of its facilities. Gainesville-Hall ’96, a local non-profit community group advocating use of the 1996 Olympic venue, used that in its overall bid for the Pan American competition, which won over proposals from Montreal, Canada, and Curitiba, Brazil. Although Brenau’s bid excluded use of the four new sorority houses and the new general residence hall that is scheduled for completion later this year during the event, the existence of those facilities significantly enhanced the campus ambiance that turned the head of the site selection committee.

“There’s no way this event could happen without Brenau,” said Morgan House, the Lake Lanier Olympic Venue manager. “Its contribution to our proposal was really invaluable.”

In addition to providing living quarters and food services, the university will host the opening ceremony for the event in Pearce Auditorium. Teams will use the gym and other facilities on the historic campus and in the Brenau Downtown Center for meetings and activities such as stretching and yoga.

In addition to exposing the university to a broader audience from around the globe, the event will generate revenues that contribute to annual operating funds for the university.

All residence halls generally are vacant from commencement on the first Friday in May until classes resume for the fall term in late August. Brenau historically has used residence halls, meeting space and food services during summer months for summer camps and retreats. Although revenues from the event will not jeopardize Brenau’s not-for-profit status, Brenau Senior Vice President for Administration and CFO David Barnett said wryly, the money paid in will help offset costs for campus maintenance. And the concentration of athletes in the area will definitely have some economic impact on the community.

House estimates that about 1,000 people – including athletes, coaches and spectators – will be on site for the Pan American Championships. “In terms of actual numbers, it’s a small event,” he said, “but the prestige of the event and the weight it carries is enormous.”

Strongest Venue

Clarks Bridge Park, located near the point where the Chattahoochee River flows into Lake Sidney Lanier northeast of Gainesville, has one of the strongest legacies among the 1996 Olympic venues, hosting various competitions and teams – it is a particular favorite of the Canadian national team – over the past 20 years. However, the Pan America competition marks the first Olympic qualifying event in Gainesville and Hall County.

“When the venue decided it wanted to put in a bid, one of the things they had to do is identify affordable space for the participants,” said Barnett, who is also a new member of the Gainesville-Hall ’96 board. “The Gainesville-Hall ’96 group asked if we’d be available and interested, and we were. It’s always good to be an entity that supports community initiatives. When Brenau has an opportunity like this, we do our best to support it.”

Barnett said the four new sorority houses were excluded from the bid because of agreements with each organization. The university excluded the new residence hall, scheduled for completion this spring, because in any construction project, completion delays are possible because of weather and other unforeseen circumstances. However, Barnett added that other residential facilities on the campus have been upgraded and remodeled.

Brenau Master of Interior design candidate Macy Dwyer participated in an 2014 international paddle sport competition in Poland.
Brenau Master of Interior Design candidate Macy Dwyer participated in a 2014 international paddle sport competition in Poland.

Since 1996 when Atlanta and its environs – including the Lake Lanier rowing venue – hosted the Olympic Games, Brenau has had considerable experience with water sports athletes. Collegiate crew teams from Northeastern schools like Harvard and Yale already use the school’s dining halls during the colder months when rivers and lakes around their home venues are iced over. Sometimes participants in rowing camps and intercollegiate/club competitions have been housed in the residence halls. Rowing was a “club sport” but is now dormant. However, Gainesville resident Macy Dwyer, BU ’15, an interior design graduate student, in 2014 was part of the 24-member U.S. dragon boat team that participated in the 2014 International Canoe Federation World Championships in Poznan, Poland.

Brenau Loves Rowers

“We love it when we have rowers on campus,” said Danielle Miller, director of special events for Brenau. “It’s fun for the students. They get to meet athletes from different parts of the world and other schools, especially in the winter. It enriches our diversity. It’s going to be really exciting to see some focused athletes here. They’re not looking to party; they’re here to focus on their sport.”

According to Barnett, managers of internationally competitive teams actually prefer dealing with colleges and universities to accommodate athletes at competitions. Because countries often do not have their team rosters set very far in advance, university housing is more flexible than hotels and motels. Barnett added athletes appreciate being in walking distance of the downtown square.

Miller said Golden Tigers athletes may be invited to help staff the event, and any who are still on campus as their seasons wind down will benefit from rubbing shoulders with the elite paddlers.

The Lake Lanier venue provides ideal conditions for the competition. Canoe sprints will take place on calm water divided into lanes with distances of 200, 500 and 1,000 meters. Teams or individuals will compete in either a kayak (using a double-bladed paddle) or a canoe (using a paddle with a single blade). The Brenau campus is only five miles away, and the venue will provide shuttle service. Also, the Georgia venue is in the midst of major improvements, including a new pedestrian tunnel under the well-trafficked highway and renovations to the boathouse, tower and service buildings.

“I take great pride that the venue can host this type of competition 20 years after hosting the Olympics,” said House. “The community should realize how important it is, how many people in the Western hemisphere are coming to Gainesville.”

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