Traveling to Spain was only the first piece of a larger puzzle

We just got back from Spain, and believe it or not, it was hot there. And every time we mentioned it, the natives explained to us, “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.” I told them they were preaching to the choir. In spite of the translation problems, I think they understood what I meant. After all, they have a lot of beautiful cathedrals there.

The trip to Spain was not intended as a travelogue for the Weather Channel, and we didn’t really spend that much time complaining about the lack of rain. Instead, some 40 civic leaders, business people, and government officials traveled across the Atlantic to see a boat race. That’s a long way to go to see some athletes paddle, but in the end, the trip will serve our community for years to come.

When the 1996 Summer Olympics packed up and moved on several years ago, they left a little something behind. At the site of the Canoe/Kayak and Rowing venue at Clark’s Bridge Park, the Lake Lanier Olympic Venue remains in the form of a first class boathouse and finish tower. The failure to accord that gift from ACOG the respect it is due would be a world class mistake on our part.

As a part of the Olympic Legacy, the venue was left more or less intact to encourage the development of the sport and international competition. In response, and to our good fortune, the Lanier Canoe, Kayak and Rowing Clubs have bloomed to the point that this venue is now recognized as a “one of a kind” site in the United States.

Because of the natural advantages of the site and the hosting of dozens of high caliber events at the park, the International Canoe Federation felt it appropriate to award the venue the right to hold the 2003 Flatwater Canoe World Championships for the first time ever in the United States. On top of that, the event will serve as the qualifying race for those athletes seeking to compete in the 2004 Olympics to be held in Athens, Greece.

If you look at it from that angle, the trip to Seville, Spain was not so much about a boat race as it was about inviting the world to return to our neck of the woods. During the Olympics, Gainesville-Hall County was tagged as the “hospitality capital of the world.” That recognition did not come about by accident. It is the end result of showing the world that we have a lot to offer.

The trip to Spain was a lot of fun. The culture was different, of course, and while the three-hour siesta suited my longstanding and unfulfilled need for an extended series of afternoon naps, the late evening dinners posed a challenge. Fortunately, our hosts graciously overlooked my tendency to fall asleep in my gazpacho.

But bedtime stories aside, the trip to Spain was intended as training for what is to come in 2003. The diverse cross section of attendees worked diligently and observed critically to gather information for our event, and in doing so, insured that all perspectives were addressed.

At the same time, everyone in attendance served as ambassadors for our event, our community, and our country. There was no wasted time or energy in getting the most out of the trip.

At this time next year, Gainesville-Hall County will be hosting a mini-Olympics, complete with Opening, Closing, and Medals Ceremonies. Sandwiched in between, our community will be hosting dignitaries, officials, and athletes, supplying housing, security, transportation, and providing the technical infrastructure for producing and conducting a world class event. That’s a tall drink of water.

In the end, the benefits will be well worth the efforts. World Championships don’t fall from olive trees. And when one lands in your lap, it’s important to recognize and act on the possibilities. Building international goodwill and respect between our nation and the 70+ nations to be represented at the event will ultimately inure to our benefit locally.

As we welcome the world, our relationships with those participating nations will stimulate opportunities for economic development here and abroad. In a time of instant worldwide communication, that’s no small opportunity. When those opportunities are combined with a region which is attractive and hospitable to visitors and tourists, the ultimate outcome speaks for itself. We have a lot to offer here, and we should make sure that we put what we have on display for the whole world.

Traveling to Spain was only the first piece of a larger puzzle. As we progress toward the event itself, we encourage our community to take the lead as an animated participant, and help us to complete the picture. And when this community puts its weight and creative energies behind such an effort, can the ultimate success of this event ever be in doubt?

Local attorney, Phillip Sartain, is chairman of Lanier Canoe 2003, the organizing committee for the 2003 Flatwater World Championships (qualifier for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece), to be held at the Lake Lanier Olympic Center September 10 – 14, 2003. He lives in Gainesville, is married to Lydia Sartain, and they have three daughters. He is a sometimes writer and humorist, though both designations are subject to debate.