Everett, arena impressed gymnastics event organizers

EVERETT — Competitively speaking, last weekend’s Pacific Rim Gymnastics Championships were a success for the United States with a total of 63 medals, including 20 gold medals, in artistic gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics and trampoline.

But the event was extremely successful in other ways, too.

So much so, in fact, that USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny is eager to return.

“It was the best Pacific Rim gymnastics event we’ve ever held,” Penny said. “We’ve never, ever met with the kind of success we had in Everett this past weekend.

“We’ve certainly started talking about what might make sense for Everett in the future. I can’t sit here today and tell you (that we’ve decided) this or that. But we’re planning to bid on bringing this event back to the U.S. in 2016 and we’re certainly going to look very, very closely at Everett as a partner in that undertaking.”

Most impressive to Penny was the support of spectators and other community groups, with a three-day attendance total of 20,343 at Comcast Arena. By comparison, the previous Pacific Rim Championships in the United States — San Jose, Calif., in 2008 — drew around 7,100 for three days.

“Obviously with respect to tickets sales and the crowds in general, it was fantastic,” said Penny, a Seattle-area native and University of Washington graduate. “It exceeded our expectations. … The way the gymnastics community supported the event and the way the community at large supported the event, it truly assured us that we made a good decision to bring this event to Everett.”

Comcast Arena had a capacity of around 6,200 for the Pacific Rim Championships because seats were taken out near floor level and others at one end were not used because of a large video screen and media seating. The attendance totals include tickets for morning and afternoon sessions.

The venue was ideal, Penny said, because larger arenas “can feel half empty if people aren’t there. … But this was the perfect size. The floor size and that configuration (of gymnastics equipment) works very, very well for us.”

In addition, the adjoining Community Ice Rink housed the rhythmic gymnastics and trampoline competitions, and the proximity “made it extremely convenient for all the athletes and their delegations,” he said.

Penny was at Comcast Arena for the final night of Skate America in October 2008, and that same evening he spoke with event producer Laura Lee of Production Sports in Monroe. If the arena could work well for figure skating, Penny said that night, why not gymnastics?

“He was very excited about what he’d just seen and said he wanted to do something similar,” Lee recalled, and from that conversation began the effort to bring the Pacific Rim Championships to Everett.

During subsequent conversations with USA Gymnastics officials, Lee promised large crowds.

“I told them we’d get 20,000 in that building,” she said with a laugh. “And they told me not to say that, that it was too ambitious.”

But it happened largely because of a vigorous marketing campaign and the presence of several thriving gymnastics clubs in the Puget Sound area. Those young gymnasts were very visible and very noisy during last weekend’s event.

The success of the Pacific Rim Championships, coming on the heels of Skate America, “legitimizes the facility and the community in other sport organizations’ minds as well,” said Comcast Arena general manager Kim Bedier. “It makes it a viable arena for other organizations to look at for hosting their events as well.

“And now that we have two big ones under our belt, I see this turning into more in the future, for sure,” she said.

Indeed, there was talk of Everett hosting the 2012 Four Continents figure skating championships in February, but by then preparations were already under way for the Pacific Rim Championships.

“Both figure skating and gymnastics have told me they’ll come back,” Lee said, “so now it’s really just a matter of finding the right events.”

And based on the response he saw last weekend, Penny said he can’t wait.

“I must have had two dozen people come up and thank me for bringing this event to Everett,” he said. “I didn’t know these people. They were spectators, just random people, but they approached me and wanted to say thank you for bringing this event to the area.”

The contributions of so many people, including the thousands of gymnastics fans who poured into Comcast Arena, “allowed us to put on a first-class event for the athletes and their delegations from around the world,” he said. “That’s what our goal was and we were able to accomplish that last weekend.”

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