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Anaheim Warms Up for World Gymnastics

Competition is expected to bring 100,000 visitors -- and $30 million to the local economy.

August 13, 2003|Kimi Yoshino | Times Staff Writer

With its theme parks and convention center, Anaheim is no stranger to big events. But the World Gymnastics Championship, which begins Friday at the Arrowhead Pond, will set a high-water mark: More than 600 gymnasts and 100,000 spectators will descend on the city for more than a week, delivering an economic boost expected to top $30 million.

Officials expect participants and spectators to book 35,000 room-nights at area hotels. On top of that, Anaheim is likely to reap long-term rewards as the Arrowhead Pond, the city-owned indoor arena that hosts the Anaheim Mighty Ducks hockey team, establishes itself as a venue for Olympic-caliber sporting events.

"We believe it's going to be the largest event ever held wholly within the confines of Orange County," said David Simon, president of the Los Angeles Sports Council, an organization that supports economic development through sports and helped bring the gymnastics meet to Anaheim.

And what's good for Orange County is good for Southern California's ongoing efforts to attract high-profile sporting events that pack a sizable economic impact.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday August 15, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
Children's choir -- A listing of events accompanying a story in Wednesday's California section about the World Championship of Gymnastics in Anaheim incorrectly referred to a performing group as the International Children's Choir. It is called the Children of the World Choir.

Since landing the gymnastics event, the Pond has booked the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials in 2004 and the Badminton World Championship in 2005.

Next month, the Women's World Cup of soccer comes to the Home Depot Center in Carson. And over the next few years, that venue will play host to the Beach Volleyball World Championship, the Cycling World Championship and the World Cup of Track and Field.

"There are very few communities that get to host that many world championships," Simon said.

Anaheim ranked second to Indianapolis as the U.S. host city for the gymnastics tournament. But because of a scheduling conflict in Indianapolis, as well as a desire to hold the event during the summer to boost television ratings, Anaheim was ultimately awarded the competition.

"From our standpoint, an event of this stature certainly keeps our facility and Anaheim and Orange County as a destination that has the proven capability of hosting the world's biggest events," said Tim Ryan, Pond general manager.

In the last year, the city has hosted the World Series, the Stanley Cup Finals and an NCAA Sweet 16 basketball tournament.

But this event is different: Competition continues for nine days, and more than 600 athletes representing nearly 80 countries will compete for spots at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Greece. Athletes from some countries have been in the area for weeks, training at gyms from Bakersfield to San Diego.

Unlike one-night concerts or shorter-duration sporting events, the world championship -- considered the biggest gymnastics event outside the Olympics -- is drawing fans from around the world who will be booking rooms, dining out and pouring tourist dollars into the economy. This is only the third time the world championship has been in the United States, and the first time since 1991.

"We have filled up every [contract hotel], and we're looking for more rooms now," said Allan Judah of National Travel Systems, the official travel and housing provider for the world championship. "The average stay right now is about 10 nights. As you can see, the impact on the economy is pretty tremendous."

But the Pond's future success may rest with how smoothly its staff and 500 volunteers can pull off the event. For more than 18 months, organizers have been arranging details for everything from feeding 400 journalists to locating interpreters for dozens of languages.

The Pond has also organized practice locations. The official training center is at the Anaheim Convention Center. A temporary gym has also been erected in the Pond's parking lot as a last-minute warm-up spot.

Some teams have been in town for a few weeks. Great Britain arrived late last month; China arrived Aug. 1. Mike Milidonis, managing director of the World Gymnastics Championship, has helped oversee many of their needs, from picking members up at the airport and arranging their meals to providing tours for international dignitaries.

Of course, it's not all work and no play for the gymnasts. Milidonis said many of them have been hanging out at Build-A-Bear in Downtown Disney. A chef at one of the hotels helped teach the Chinese team how to whip up scrambled eggs. And the British gymnasts have taken a liking to Grand Slam breakfasts from Denny's.

"Almost every night, they're taking excursions throughout Downtown Disney," Milidonis said.

"And when Huntington Beach had their surfing championships, one of the teams started tumbling along the beach there. They drew a little bit of a crowd."

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