Four-Day Event Next August; Success In 2010 Reason For Return
By MIKE ANTHONY
August 20, 2012
USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny has many fond memories from the week he spent in Hartford in August 2010, but what really stands out is the promise he delivered while leaving the XL Center with Mayor Pedro Segarra after the final day of competition at the Visa Championships.
"I remember saying, 'Sir, we will be back, and we will be back soon,'" Penny said Monday. "I can't tell you how much pride I have in being able to live up to that commitment. I look forward to shaking his hand and saying, 'We're back.'"
That handshake will take place Tuesday morning during a press conference at the XL Center to formally announce the return of USAG's national championship meet. The four-day event is scheduled to take place at the XL Center and the nearby Connecticut Convention Center Aug. 14-17, 2013. Men's and women's national champions will be determined, and national teams, at both the junior and senior levels, will be set.
"It's a great piece of news for Hartford and this area, which really put a tremendous foot forward in 2010," said Chuck Steedman, XL Center general manager and senior vice president. "From a variety of metrics, [the 2010 competition] was one of the more successful events that USA Gymnastics has staged. What I remember best is the vibrancy and the number of people that were in Hartford that week, not only in the arena, but downtown, filling the restaurants, the hotels, the convention center. This is a fantastic event for the region."
In 2010, when some events were also held at the University of Hartford, the competition drew a crowd of more than 40,000 over the four days, a record since eclipsed at this year's event earlier this summer in St. Louis. The event in recent years has also been held in Houston (men, 2008), Boston (women, 2008), Dallas (2009) and St. Paul, Minn. (2011).
Penny calls the gathering the sport's Super Bowl. Governing bodies meet. There is a convention. The USA Gymnastics National Congress & Trade Show is held. About 5,000 people attend that alone. People from all 50 states attended in 2010, when city streets were decorated with signage and activities to celebrate the arrival of gymnastics' best-of-the-best — household names, up-and-comers, past Olympians, future Olympians.
The field of participants isn't set until about a month before the meet, but recognizable gymnasts are expected. Each member of the 2012 women's senior national team, which won the all-around gold at the London Olympics, participated in the 2010 Visa Championships. Gabby Douglas, who won the individual all-around gold in London, participated in the junior division in Hartford, for instance. So did Jordyn Wieber, who would also go on to become a member of Team USA's "Fierce Five."
"I did get hurt, but for the most part I enjoyed Hartford," said Wieber, who sprained an ankle and had to withdraw in 2010. "The Visa Championships is where everything kind of starts for the season."
The event is actually still without an official title sponsor, something Penny expects to have secured in the next month or two. Conversations are ongoing with Visa. Whatever it's called, it is a boost to the local economy, and with NBC Universal owning TV rights, it's good exposure for the city. Penny said NBC will televise live the third and fourth days of competition.
"The Visa Championships are a signature event for the City of Hartford, one that I have worked hard to recruit back to Connecticut's capital city," Segarra said in a statement. "It's exciting for residents and beneficial for downtown businesses, especially coming on the heels of the 2012 Olympics. I'm happy that USA Gymnastics recognizes all that we do to make Hartford a wonderful place to live, work and play."
Gov.Dannel P. Malloyalso weighed in on the news of USA Gymnastics' return to Hartford:
"Connecticut is proud to again be the home of the U.S. Gymnastics Championships," Malloy said. "The 2013 competition will bring extraordinary athletes to our capital city, and it will give Connecticut a great opportunity to show thousands of fans from around the country all that our state has to offer. Thanks to the hard work of USA Gymnastics, Mayor Pedro Segarra and the XL Center, a national spotlight will shine on Connecticut next August."
Ticket prices for access to all four sessions range from $125-$395. Connecticut, and the Northeast in general, are considered highly active in the youth gymnastics world. There are as many club teams in the area, Penny said, as any in the nation.
"From Hartford's perspective, it's one of the most marquee events that this city could host," Steedman said. "From a city and region perspective, we learned that it's a great fit. If you look at viewership patterns, trends in social media, gymnastics is the biggest story in the Olympics. Inherently, this is a sport that rises to the top of people's understanding the easiest."
Hartford is considered a desirable location because of the layout of the downtown area and the configuration of the XL Center, which features considerable room for warmups in conference areas adjacent to the arena and is within walking distance of the convention center — with restaurants and hotels in between.
"They love the proximity of convention center and XL Center, the bookends and anchors, with a very vibrant downtown in between," Steedman said.
In general, Penny said, the layout and the enthusiasm shown by fans and hosts gives the event a big-time feel. That, he said, is important in preparing competitors for the potentially daunting stages of the world championships or Olympics.
"The sense of confidence we have in working with the people at the XL Center is one of the biggest reasons we felt confident coming back to Hartford so quickly," Penny said. "Our No. 1 goal is to showcase our talent at the highest level. Hartford helped us do that. When you walk around town and you see pictures of yourself and signs, it gives you a sense of pride and prestige that you're doing something very special. That builds on itself in how you perform.
"When we were there in 2010, we raised the bar in many ways in respect to the event. Hartford has been an incredible partnership that has led to even better partnerships. So much synergy has been created. We thought it was important to reward the partners that made that happen."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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