The competition is intense at the International Canoe Federation Dragon Boat World Championships.

Since 1996 when the Olympic rowing, canoeing and kayaking events were held at Lake Lanier, the venue’s prestige has grown exponentially. Now known as Lake Lanier Olympic Park, it has drawn a host of prestigious events including U.S. national championships in all three sports.

Two years ago it was the site for the Pan-American Championships drawing athletes from throughout the hemisphere. But this year it will draw athletes from around the world as it hosts the International Canoe Federation Dragon Boat World Championships.

Lake Lanier is now recognized as one of the best competition venues in the world for flatwater sports with a 1.9-mile course sheltered from wind that also has become famous as a training venue located 49 miles northeast of Atlanta.

The annual Atlanta Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival in its 23rd year has grown as well with 80 boats enrolled representing corporate and club teams and drawing as many as 7,000 spectators annually. It will be held only a few days before the ICF event begins on Sept. 12.

And even though the annual Atlanta event has become a popular event and kept the sport’s profile highlighted, Eugene Hanratty, the executive director of the festival, told Global Atlanta that the ICF’s event is the top-ranked one in its field in the world and has no formal relationship with the Atlanta festival.

“They scout out the best,” he said. “Their paddlers are really good.”

The event will draw tens of thousands of visitors from around the world to witness the national team competitions. It is the first time that it has been held in the United States with past venues having been in Russia, Poland and Hungary. Last year it was held in Venice, Italy.

While the registration remains open today, by early September when the competition officially begins on Sept. 12th at least 25 countries are to be represented.

Tim Evans, vice president for economic development at the Great Hall County Chamber of Commerce, said that the championship will provide an economic boost for the county much the way that the Petit Le Mans Race at Road Atlanta in Braselton brings race car enthusiasts from across the globe.

In addition to filling hotel rooms and providing a boost to local restaurants, the championship will require numerous volunteers to help direct traffic and provide directions for the foreigners.

“The U.S., I think, will have one of the largest teams with 160,” he said, “but Germany will have 150 and there will be large teams from Poland, Hungary and Canada.”

Preparations have begun in earnest. On May 14, Gainesville-Hall County officials met with U.S. Rep. Doug Collins of the 9th District and members of Atlanta’s consular corps to discuss and help prepare for the championships.

As an indication of the international interest in the championships, representatives from the diplomatic missions of Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, Japan, Korea, Mexico and Switzerland participated in the briefing.

To date, the following national teams are among the early confirmations to participate: Armenia, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, Ghana, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Puerto Rico, Russia, Switzerland, Ukraine and the United States.

When it was discovered that more dragon boats were needed to accommodate the teams, Tatsumi Intermodal USA, which is based in Osaka, Japan, and established a facility in Hall County to support its customer, Kubota Manufacturing of America Corp., ordered from China the boats and is currently storing them in two holding facilities, providing another indication of how important the championships are viewed, according to Mr. Evans.

Mr. Evans said that several years ago a Georgia delegation visited the company in Osaka, which also has a venue for dragon boat competitions.

To learn more about the ICF championships, call Robyn Lynch, executive director, at 770-530-7152 or click here.