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Sunday February 14th, 2016 6:28PM

Hornsby set for Olympic battle -- with plenty of local support

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
GAINESVILLE -- In the small hours of Friday morning, several Gainesville-area residents will gather -- some in an office, some at home in front of their computers -- to watch history in the making.

Tim Hornsby will become the first member of the Lanier Canoe Kayak Club to take part in the Olympics when he competes in the K1 (one-man sprint kayak) 200 meters on Friday in London.

And there will be plenty of well-wishers back home, rubbing sleep out of their eyes and urging him on.

"Everybody is absolutely thrilled he's there," said Connie Hagler, former LCKC director and organizer of the viewing party, which will begin at 4 a.m. "And it's great to see all the folks that have played a part in this gathering and cheering for Tim."

An Atlanta native, Hornsby, 26, joined the LCKC as a youth and spent his formative years on the waters of Lanier training under then-LCKC coach Tony Hall.

"He's one of our kids; we love every bit of it," Hagler said. "I remember when he first joined. We (the LCKC) had a little booth at an outdoors expo and he and his mom came up and he expressed some interest. He had to drive all the way from Atlanta to come up and compete. He used to spend the night with some of the other kids to help out, but it was tough for him."

It was just the start of Hornsby's desire to compete at the top levels of sprint kayak -- a path that began to take distinct shape in 2003 when he placed 10th at the World Junior Championships in the K2 (two-man boat) 1,000-meter race at the age of 17. He also paddled in the K4 (four-man boat) junior boat that placed fourth at Olympic Trials in 2004.

Four years later, Hornsby traveled to the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games as a training partner for U.S. Olympian and sprint competitior Rami Zur. But now it is Hornsby alone in the spotlight, and he's bringing the LCKC with him.

"It's huge (for LCKC) that it has happened," Hagler said. "We thought that it might happen sooner, but it has gotten harder and harder to qualify for the Olympics in sprint kayak."

With slots for sprint kayak competitors shrinking over the years -- they must share a set number of slots with slalom kayak competitors and each Olympics caps the total number athletes allowed -- Hornsby had to battle to the end to earn a spot, including a circuitous series of races that saw him edge out fellow hopeful Ryan Dolan for a spot on the U.S. team. Hornsby won the men's K1 200 at the 2011 Sprint National Championships -- hosted by LCKC, which has won 10 National Championships -- but wound up battling Dolan for the spot in a series of races over 2012. Hornsby claimed first place in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Oklahoma City on April 20 to force a race-off with Dolan for the national team spot -- which Hornsby sealed with a 14th place finish at the 2012 World Cup No. 2 in Duisburg, Germany on May 27.

Now, however, Hornsby stands on the verge of gunning for Olympic glory for the first time -- and he'll have plenty of moral support on Friday.

"We haven't talked to him in a while, but we understand that he has to be absolutely focused," Hagler said. "His dad called recently and told us how appreciative he was of our support."

Hornsby will compete in a heat race on Friday and, should he qualify, again in the semifinals later Friday. Medal races will take place on Saturday.

"This is just an absolute thrill," Hagler said.
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