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Gymnastics Gold: Hartford, XL Center Capture 2010 National Championships

LORI RILEY

July 29, 2009

USA Gymnastics' 2010 national championships and main world championship qualifier will be held at the XL Center in Hartford Aug. 11-14, 2010. The announcement will be made today.

The Visa Championships are a coup for Hartford, which hasn't often hosted nationally prominent sporting events.

The Davis Cup, the international tennis championship, took place in Hartford in 1987, with Boris Becker and John McEnroe. The NCAA men's basketball tournament was last in town in 1998, and the women's NCAA regional was held at the Civic Center, now the XL Center, in 2004. Skate America, an international figure-skating competition, was held at the Civic Center in 2006.

"From my perspective, when I look at the number of visitors coming to Hartford for this, the TV exposure and the overall impact on the economy, this appears to be one of the biggest events Hartford has ever landed," said Chuck Steedman, senior vice president and general manager of the XL Center.

The 2009 Visa Championships, which will take place next month in Dallas, feature Olympic gold medalist Nastia Liukin and silver medalist Jonathan Horton.

The announcement of the 2010 championships will be made today at noon at the Capitol with legendary women's gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi and Gov. M. Jodi Rell in attendance.

"We are honored the state of Connecticut was selected to host such a popular and exciting sporting event," Rell said in a statement. " We have a lot to look forward to when it comes to the economic boost it will have on our business community. Frankly, the 2010 Visa Championships are coming to Connecticut at the right time."

About 25,000 people are expected to attend the event, which will feature competition at the XL Center and the University of Hartford, as well as a national gymnastics convention and trade show at the Connecticut Convention Center. The men's and women's finals will be televised nationally by NBC.

Economically, the competition is expected to be a shot in the arm for the region. Direct spending estimated at $7.5 million is expected at hotels, restaurants, attractions and other businesses, according to the Greater Hartford Convention & Visitors Bureau. More broadly, it would enable the region to show itself off for the purpose of generating development.

USA Gymnastics president and CEO Steve Penny said Hartford was chosen for many reasons, including the city's "compact, walkable" environment and the XL Center's adjoining expo center, which will be used for warm-up and practice gyms.

"The combination of the community, the [Greater Hartford Convention and Visitors Bureau] and Chuck Steedman they showed a lot of enthusiasm for wanting to bring the event to the community," Penny said.

"The Northeast corridor has always been a hot spot for us as far as the convenience for our gymnastics clubs. There are a lot of clubs within a decent radius of Hartford. Any time we can find a good partner in the Northeast, we have been successful."

Texas, which hosts this year's championships, is a hotbed of gymnastics; five members of the senior women's national team live in the state. Karolyi is the director of the U.S. team's national training center near Houston.

"Texas became so popular in gymnastics for two reasons: because major interest was generated by strong club performances, but also because we bring national events to Texas," Karolyi said in an e-mail. "I definitely think that bringing the championships to Connecticut will generate interest in the state.

"Connecticut is a good gymnastics state, but definitely needs a major event to energize the gyms and give that important message to gymnasts about what type of performance it takes to be successful."

Robin Deary Fillmore, state chairman for USA Gymnastics and owner of Deary's Gymnastics in Danielson, was enthusiastic. "When they started bidding for it, they called me and asked me, 'Did I think the clubs would be interested?'" he said. "I said, 'Absolutely.' It's an honor. There are a lot of talented kids in this state who have never had a chance to see these Olympians."

Next year's championships fall midway between the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics, but organizers said that usually doesn't diminish the importance or attractiveness of the event, and Karolyi agreed.

"The mid-part of the Olympic cycle, which falls in 2010, is a very important indicator of the direction and performance expected for the national team," he said. "Next year's championships are going to be a very important and crucial change. It may be a changing of the guard with respect to older gymnasts and younger gymnasts competing. It's going to be one of the most disputed national championships in this Olympic cycle."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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