Originally created 07/25/99

Games launch new sports



Twenty-five years ago, many people said soccer would never catch on in the football-dominant South.

Fifteen years ago, Augusta-area residents pooh-poohed the idea of holding intercollegiate rowing regattas on the river. That won't fly, they said.

Let's all welcome the newest kids on Augusta's nonexistent sports block -- canoeing and kayaking -- which have a chance to come on as strongly as soccer and rowing.

"You've got lots of good water here," said Tony Hall, the full-time head coach of Lake Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club based at the Atlanta Olympics rowing venue near Gainesville.

Hall and about 30 members of his club came to Lake Olmstead to compete in the Georgia Games. In addition, he assisted event director Jim Stringer of American Wilderness Outfitters Limited of Augusta in running Saturday's races.

It's Stringer's dream to organize a canoe and kayak club for Augusta-area enthusiasts, and the Georgia Games gave him a chance to showcase that activity.

"Lake Olmstead would be an excellent teaching and training venue," said Hall, who was women's coach on the Canadian team during the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.

He's been at Lake Lanier for two years as a result "of the enthusiasm of the local people to build a sport in an area where it had been nonexistent."

"Twenty-year-olds can get in the boat in rowing and be successful, but balance is the hardest thing about our sport. These boats are tipsy, so it's best to start as kids of 8 or 9 years old. We've got 100 members in our club, but you really don't need that many."

Stringer said he has talked with several area enthusiasts about an Augusta club.

One of these is Dr. Richard B. Schwartz, 38, of Medical College of Georgia. He's been involved in kayaking from his days as a child growing up in Michigan.

"I began kayaking in 1976 after an older brother did some canoe racing and I'd met some flat-water kayakers," said Schwartz, an Evans resident. "It would be nice to have a club here."

Schwartz qualified for the World Junior Team Championships in four-man kayak in Vichy, France, but didn't make the finals. He was in the second-place boat in the 1978 Pan Am Games in Mexico City and placed seventh in the 1979 Junior World in Tempare, Finland.

"I trained very hard for the 1980 Olympic Trials, but our president (Jimmy Carter) opted to boycott the Olympics that year (1980)."

Schwartz said competitive canoeing and kayaking are sprint sports in boats that are "tippy, but once you learn how to balance, it's something that stays with you, like riding a bicycle."