Regatta brings world-class paddlers to Southern Tier

By Matt Porter

May 26, 2014 Updated May 26, 2014 at 6:40 PM EDT

Bainbridge, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Racers from across the country and the world descend on the Southern Tier for the 52nd General Clinton Regatta.

Two-time Olympian Bruce Barton said the course is attractive because so many top athletes participate.

"It's just a big event, there's a lot of competition," Barton said. "And the top racers want to go where there's a lot of competition."

The course stretches 70 miles beginning at Otsego Lake in Cooperstown and finishing at General Clinton Park in Bainbridge.

The race is the largest flat water course in North America.

Barton won his own race with a four-man team and also logged his 2,100th mile after finishing his 30th race.

"The guys winning in the pro class are just as good athletes as those winning the Olympics," he said. "That's short sprint racing, this is long ways so it's a lot harder."

Canadian athlete Steve Lajoie finished first this year in the solo C-1 pro race after winning the doubles race six year in a row.

He said the Southern Tier course has a unique beauty to it.

"I don't like the city as much so it's good," Lajoie said. "It's a nice river to paddle on. It's shallow most of the years, which is good."

All along the 70 mile route on the Susquehanna River, fans set up just trying to catch a glimpse of the paddlers.

Steven LeFever sat along the river in Unadilla waiting to spot his father who is racing in his 35th race.

"It's the greatest. He's going to be 78 years old this year, he's number one the last I saw, he's first in his division," LaFever said. "He's gonna probably come in first again. It's just amazing to be able to do this at 78 years old."

The race started when one town leader, Charles Hinkley, hoped to bring attention to the Town of Bainbridge.

Hinkley worked with several local businessmen to open the first race in 1963.

Hinkley's son, John, said the race has continued to stay true to his father's ideals.

"He always said the race is for the paddlers," Hinkley said. "He was just so proud it did bring the commerce that it did. He also thought it could get bigger."

The race includes a carnival and flea market, and is also the first leg of a triple crown of races that include courses in Michigan and Quebec, Canada.

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