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The Pond Flips Over Success

Profitable championships called the perfect springboard to the 2004 Olympic trials at the arena.

August 26, 2003|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

For drama, it didn't get much better than watching Russia's Svetlana Khorkina defeat a mob of spring-legged moppets to win a historic third all-around title at the World Gymnastics Championships. Or seeing Paul Hamm of the U.S. obliterate the memory of a high bar fall two years ago in winning the men's all-around crown.

For athleticism, it was tough to top the triple-gold-medal feats of China's Li Xiao-Peng, team, vault and parallel bars, or the double gold of Bulgaria's Jordan Jovtchev, rings and floor exercise.

For heart, there was no better example than the U.S. women's team, which lost half its squad to injury and illness but won its first world championship. Or tiny Fan Ye, whose overexuberant warmup cost China a .2 deduction and a medal in the team competition but who came back to triumph on the balance beam.

And for the bottom line of USA Gymnastics and the Arrowhead Pond, , the event at Anaheim was a financial success that bodes well for their partnership in staging the U.S. Olympic trials at the Pond next June 24-27.

"From an organizational standpoint, I'd give this a 9.9," said Tim Ryan, general manager of the Pond. "I don't want to give out a perfect 10, but certainly a 9.9. Everyone that's been associated with it -- the hundreds of volunteers, our staff, the staff of USA Gymnastics -- is just thrilled with how this turned out."

Ryan said ticket sales for the trials, which will help determine the U.S. men's and women's teams for the Athens Games, had neared $100,000.

"And we haven't spent a dollar yet on marketing," he added. "What the U.S. men and women did for us was absolutely fantastic."

Although final figures won't be available for about a month, Ryan said the World Championships would be profitable. The Pond guaranteed USA Gymnastics a rights fee of about $900,000 and agreed to split profits above a certain level.

Advance sales accounted for nearly 80,000 tickets, and the final announced attendance was 85,872, indicating weak walk-up sales. However, Ryan said, the event "hit all the numbers we had hoped for" and gave the Pond an inestimable boost by putting it in the homes of TV viewers around the globe and giving it the cachet of a world-class venue.

Without the World Championships, he said, the Pond wouldn't have won its bid to hold the trials, and without the trials, it wouldn't be part of the planning process for a 40-city post-Olympic gymnastics tour.

Complaints from competitors and coaches were few. Hamm called the organization "perfect" but disliked the tented warmup gym built in an adjacent parking lot.

"For the Olympic trials, we'll train and warm up on the floor here, so that won't be a problem," he said.

Martha Karolyi, program director for the U.S. women's national team, also criticized the warmup gym and said traveling the path between it and the Pond was "basically walking on the street."

Her complaints also included the floor exercise area, which many athletes said was too hard and responsible for a spate of ankle and foot injuries. The surface is determined by the International Gymnastics Federation, which is expected to adopt a more forgiving material next year.

In addition, Karolyi suggested altering the vault runway for the trials because competitors landed on a concrete surface, "and that takes an extremely big toll on the girls' legs.... We reduced the number of repetitions on floor and vault."

Nonetheless, the U.S. women exceeded expectations with a team gold, a tie for gold on the uneven bars between Chellsie Memmel and Hollie Vise, and Carly Patterson's silver in the all-around. Anaheim will also be remembered as the place Memmel proved her poise under pressure, a trait she hopes to display here again.

"I think California is magic for her," said her coach, Jim Chudy. "I think what she did here can only help at the trials."

Her success will give Karolyi some tough choices at the trials, especially if Annia Hatch, Courtney Kupets and Ashley Postell regain top form after recuperating from injuries and illness. Tabitha Yim and Katie Heenan, who missed the world competition, and alternate Samantha Sheehan could also be factors.

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