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International gymnastics competition coming to Sears Centre
Hopefuls for next Olympics will be trying to impress
By Tom Quinlan | Daily Herald Staff

Bela Karolyi signs autographs with Stacey Grossman, left, and Sandy Aichele of Elk Grove Gymnastics before talking about the 2009 American Cup gymnastics competition next February at the Sears Centre.

 

Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

Bela Karolyi greets Crystal Lake gymnasts from left, Rachael Underwood, Lexi Enxing (hands on face) and Shea Mahoney, with coaches Amy Enxing and Chris Riegel, both former U.S. Olympic Gymnasts, before talking about the 2009 American Cup gymnastics competition next February at the Sears Centre.

 

Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

Bela Karolyi talks Thursday about the 2009 American Cup gymnastics competition next February at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates.

 

Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

Bela Karolyi talks Thursday about the 2009 American Cup gymnastics competition next February at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates.

 

Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

Bela Karolyi talks Thursday about the 2009 American Cup gymnastics competition next February at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates.

 

Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

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Published: 11/13/2008 5:02 PM

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From Bela Karolyi's view, the road to London and the 2012 Olympics now goes through Chicago - and Hoffman Estates.

Karolyi, often described as the face of USA Gymnastics, visited the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates on Thursday to promote the American Cup, an international competition coming to the 11,200-seat arena on Feb. 21.

But Karolyi is more than the face of gymnastics in the United States - he's the heart and soul of it and his booming voice and passion for the sport resonates as strongly today as it did when he led Team USA to the gold in the 1996 Olympics.

"The American Cup gave me the confidence I needed. It means a lot to me," Karolyi said. "It is the first steppingstone in the new Olympic cycle."

Next February, as many as 10-15 international teams will take part in an all-around competition at the Sears Centre. Organizers may not know until January which elite athletes will be here, but tickets ($19.50-$125) are already on sale through Ticketmaster and other outlets, including local gymnastics clubs.

Some reigning Olympic medalists (the USA women and men collected 10 medals in Beijing) may take part in the American Cup, but even Karolyi says he doesn't know who has his/her sights set on London just yet.

"What an amazing year it was (in Beijing) - But it's over. Here we go again," Karolyi said while waving his arms over his head. "It's a new chapter now. It is good again to have a new hope."

That new hope will step forward at the American Cup in the form of new and younger gymnasts challenging to move up as contenders for a place in the 2012 or 2016 Olympic Games. Nastia Liukin, who won the women's gold in Beijing, also won the American Cup all-around title in 2006 and 2008, while Olympic silver medalist Shawn Johnson won it in 2007.

The event has the support of World Sport Chicago, the group striving to bring international competition to bolster Chicago's bid for the Olympics.

"This demonstrates that Chicago really can put on international events," said Scott Myers, executive director of World Sport Chicago. "Chicago is looking quite strong right now."

Steve Penny, president of USA Gymnastics, contends the Sears Centre is a perfect venue.

"We like that it is intimate, but big enough to hold a great crowd and look good on TV," Meyer said. "This serves as our premier event - and I can say without a doubt that we are the best gymnastics country in the world."

Tyson American Cup

What: International gymnastics all-around competition featuring athletes from 10-15 countries

When: Feb. 21

Where: Sears Centre Arena, Hoffman Estates

Past winners: Paul Hamm, Nastia Liukin (2008); Jonathan Horton, Shawn Johnson (2007).

Tickets: $19.50-$125, available by calling (312) 559-1212 or 1-888-SEARSTIX; online at ticketmaster.com; all Ticketmaster outlets, Sears Centre box office and through participating gymnastics clubs

On the Web: searscentre.com usa-gymnastics.org chicago2016.org worldsportchicago.org