In 1992, the Gainesville Hall ‘96 Roundtable chaired by Jim Mathis was formed with other community leaders to seek Olympic opportunities. Jack Pyburn, a local rower, learned the rowing venue the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) had selected was in jeopardy. Jim and Jack worked to convince the International Rowing Federation to bring the venue to Lanier. ACOG was approached and lobbied by Jim and Steve Gilliam, Vice Chair of Gainesville Hall ‘96. They were successful.
The full Gainesville Hall ‘96 Committee consisted of 35 dedicated community members who provided immeasurable support through providing a functioning office, merchandising, volunteers, Olympic housing, test event support, club support, fundraising, legal advice, and anything else that might arise! Executive Director, Mary Hart Wilheit, gracefully managed the office. Following the 1996 Olympic Games Gainesville Hall ‘96 became the Gainesville Hall ‘96 Foundation consisting of 12 members chaired by Jim Mathis.
The boathouse, timing tower and race course remain as a permanent Olympic legacy - a gift to the local community. The Venue is co-owned by the City of Gainesville and Hall County, and is leased to the Gainesville Hall ‘96 Foundation. The construction of the facility was funded by ACOG. The land belongs to the Corp of Engineers. The Lake Lanier Rowing Club and the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club (LCKC) sublease the facilities as the organizations responsible for rowing and canoeing activities at the Lanier ’96 Olympic Venue. Gainesville Parks and Recreation and Hall County Parks and Leisure Departments assist with maintenance of the buildings and grounds and are the liaison with the city and county governments. The clubs work in cooperation, but run separate programs.
One of the criteria for being selected as the site for the 1996 Olympic Venue was that a legacy would be left for the sports of rowing and sprint canoe / kayak. The legacy is realized in several ways. First, the core Olympic facilities were built to be permanent and to support, develop and promote the two sports in the future. Secondly, the development of community-based programs was seen as the foundation of a lasting commitment to the sports and long-term use of the Olympic facilities. Steve Kelly, Competition Manager for Canoe / Kayak and Olympian made a point of using local volunteers in key Olympic positions even though they had no previous exposure to the sport. These local volunteers quickly learned the sport and formed relationships with the International Canoe Federation representatives as well as those with the United States Canoe & Kayak Team.
Key Olympic Canoe / Kayak volunteers and staff included: Jim Mathis, Steve Gilliam, Mary Hart Wilheit, Dottie Rigby – Volunteer Coordinator, Connie Hagler – Officials Coordinator, Jim Ingram – Field of Play, Lee Paine – Results, Stephanie Reed – Officials Assistant, Beth Moore – Officials Assistant, , Gary Gaines – Field of Play, Richard Hagler – Boat Holder Supervisor, Dennis Martin, Corinne Martin, Sharon Hartiss, Dave Hartiss, Julia Johnson, Boat Control, Pamela Willis - Results. International LCKC members have included ICF President, Sergio Orsi, ICF General Secretary, Otto Bonn and ICF Treasurer, Andre Vandeput. ICF Flatwater Committee Chairman – John Leukemans and Frank Garner from Canada mentored and encouraged our volunteers for years! Finally, use of the Olympic Venue for local, national and international rowing and sprint canoe / kayak events matches world-class events with a world class sporting venue. It is the honor, challenge and responsibility of the Lake Lanier Rowing Club and the Lanier Canoe & Kayak Club to be the Olympic legacy for these two sports at the Lake Lanier ’96 Olympic Venue.
The Lanier Canoe & Kayak Club began in 1994 when Sergio Orsi, President of the International Canoe Federation, visited Gainesville as part of the official Olympic venue approval process. Several whitewater canoe and kayak enthusiasts met him at a lunch hosted by James Mathis, Sr. Gary Gaines formally organized the club following a United States Canoe and Kayak Team (USCKT) meeting held in Colorado Springs in February 1994.
The development of the competitive Sprint Canoe / Kayak program was initiated by ACOG through the efforts of Steve Kelly. Equipment was provided through the USCKT and Ocean Kayak. A core group of adults agreed to start Junior Olympic teams. The first group of coaches included, Gary Gaines, Stephanie Reed Gordon, Richard Hagler, Connie Hagler, Ed Ivey, Lee Paine, Dave Gale, Sharon and Dave Hartiss. The league of teams concept provided local competition where none had existed before. The first Junior Olympic race hosted by the LCKC at Scoutland in 1995 was only 50 M long and was also the first sprint race ever held in Georgia. Seven teams and 115 athletes participated in the first year. The season consisted of 4 races. The program was voted the largest and most outstanding program in the United States in its first year. This program is the model for our CODP Middle School Racing League which has become the Richardson Youth Racing league.
The traveling competitive sprint team started when the Junior Olympic teams, didn’t want to stop paddling for the winter. In the fall of 1995, the fastest paddlers from the Gainesville Junior Olympic program were invited to the boathouse to try out the Olympic rental boats. The children, who stayed with it bought wet suits, learned to balance the K-4’s through the winter and became “Sea Monkeys”. Paul Podgorski was ACOG Field of Play Manager and donated his time every morning and evening through the summer to train the team. LCKC attended our first National Championships in Orlando, Florida in August 1996. The team consisting of twenty athletes, brought home 18 medals, 11 National Champion gold medals and the Columbia Trophy for most points in the Bantam division. Twelve of the group also served as boat holders at the start line for the Olympics, the Lake Lanier Sprint Challenge and the Hemispheric Qualifier. ICF Starter Peter McCabe said they were the best he has ever seen.
The enthusiasm became serious after the Olympics. The club recognized that professional coaching staff would be necessary to continue to develop the program. Several club members committed personally to raise the money and or develop the program to the level where we could hire our first professional coach. This group included Reid Moore, Mike Whitmire, Ed Ivey, Dennis Martin, Richard Hagler and Connie Hagler. In addition, significant investments from Regions Bank, Wachovia Bank, Gainesville Rotary and many individuals as well as a large investment by GAAF to fund the USOC Community Olympic Development Program allowed the club to purchase equipment and build the program to the point that it became financially self-supporting in about 6 years. This is a tremendous accomplishment – there is no other club in the United States with our resources in staff, facility or equipment.
The first professional coach was Tony Hall from 1997 through 2000. Tony developed the team from the initial base to produce the first five athletes to qualify for US National teams. Shane Martin – North Hall High, Sonrisa Reed – Gainesville High, Robert Lott – West Hall High, Katie Hagler – Gainesville High and Elly Slake – Gainesville High competed at the 1999 Junior World Championships in Zagreb, Croatia. Tony also led the team to national club titles in 1999 – Lake Placid and 2000 – Lanier. Tony attracted several international level athletes to train with and mentor our young team including: Steve Giles, Corrina Kennedy and Ruth Nortje. Tony initiated the Polar Bear Swim and the traditional LCKC tours to Melbourne, Florida for Spring Break Camp, the Weeki Wachee Race trip to Florida each February, and our annual Canada Tour usually starting with the Canada Day Regatta at the Rideau Canoe Club. Monica Scheaffer and Shawn Wilber directed our first Summer Day Camp in 1998. Steve Shummer was hired fulltime to direct our Summer Day Camp program with funding from CODP in 1999. Jeff Houser served as assistant coach several times during Tony’s tenure. Holm Schmidt served as assistant coach then as interim coach in 2000.
Krzysztolph Lepianka was head coach from 2001 through 2004. In 2001, Will Griffeth – North Hall High, Justin Tobin – Florida and Josh Bishop – Louisiana qualified for the 2001 Junior World Championships team and competed in Curitiba, Brazil. On return to the United States, the team flew into New York, City on September 11. The towers were standing as the team landed and were attacked as the team attempted to change flights. After a harrowing week, all made it safely home. Five athletes qualified for the 2005 Junior World Championships team in Komatsu, Japan. These athletes included Will Griffeth – North Hall High, Tim Hornsby – Lakeside High - Atlanta, Morgan House – Gainesville High, Kalen Lee – North Hall High, and Emily Mickle – Gainesville High. The club won the National Championships in 2002, 2003 and 2004.
Guy Wilding and Shelley Oats Wilding took the lead in 2005. Shelley was a two time Olympian from Australia and her husband, Guy her coach. They made great progress and broke many club records in a very short period of time! They instituted the ASPIRE philosophy which was instituted as club policy in 2005. A record 9 athletes qualified for the 2005 Junior World Championships in Szeged, Hungary. Josh Brandsma – North Hall, Jen Burke – San Diego, Robert Finlayson – Riverside Military Academy, Morgan House – Gainesville High, Kalen Lee – North Hall, Victoria Llonch – Gainesville High, Emily Mickle – Gainesville High, Rich Stewart – Gainesville High and Brady Bragg – West Hall (alternate). A record 5 athletes qualified for the Senior World Championships team: David Aldrich – San Diego, Katie Hagler – Gainesville High – UGA, Ty Hagler – Gainesville High – Ga Tech, Tim Hornsby – Lakeside – San Diego. Morgan House placed 5th in K1500M at the Junior World Championships which was the best finish ever for the United States. Shelley decided to return to the sport to train for the 2008 Beijing Olympics after one year of coaching. This history is still being written! You should all save your pennies for a trip to Beijing in 2008 to cheer on our local athletes as well as Shelley!
LCKC is committed to providing quality coaching to our membership. We have an excellent working relationship with USACK Head Coach Nathan Luce and will continue to provide the best possible training and education in the sport of flatwater kayaking and the top levels and continue to develop better support for our membership at every level.