Most of the nation’s best gymnasts are gathered in St. Louis this weekend for the men’s Olympic Trials and women’s P&G Championships.
It’s a showcase of talent and a classy group of competitors demonstrating their skills at the 10,600-seat Chaifetz Arena on the Saint Louis University campus.
Midtown St. Louis is hopping and city businesses are benefiting from the economic impact from the out-of-towners.
The women’s Olympic Trials figure to play in front of a full house next month in San Jose, Calif. The men’s closing competition Sunday night in St. Louis should draw more than 7,000 fans. So it’s a worthwhile four-day venture that could welcome more than 30,000 customers.
Brent Shulman, the director of marketing and communications for the St. Louis Sports Commission — the event coordinator — can tell you about it.
“It’s very unique to have this event in St. Louis because fans get to see the top athletes in the country and those who will be performing at Rio,” he said. “And it has been a while since we have played host to an Olympic Trials … going back to diving and the women's marathon in 2004."
That makes it an adventure for the participants. Five spots on the men’s Olympic squad and select berths for the women’s Olympic Trials are among the main prizes. Action started Thursday, then continues Friday and Saturday before concluding Sunday.
“For athletes to make the Olympic team, they will have to be good in all areas of competition, not just a specialist,” Shulman said. “They will have to go through six different rotations.”
The competitors, including Junior men and women, hail from all parts of the country, including Illinois and Missouri. While there aren’t any gymnasts from St. Louis or Southwestern Illinois in the field, Chicagoland, midstate Illinois and outstate Missouri are represented.
Brenna Dowell of Odessa, Mo., a community of more than 5,000 residents in Lafayette County (near Kansas City), is the Show Me State’s lone representative. She’s partaking in Senior Women.
Nia Dennis of Naperville in Senior Women and Gabby Perea of Geneva in Junior Women join Bailey Perez (ages 17-18) of Glen Ellyn, Curran Phillips (15-16) of Naperville and Max Andryuschenko (15-16) of Chicago as the Land of Lincoln competitors. Perez is in the hunt for the all-around title.
There’s also a pair of ex-University of Illinois gymnasts eyeing stellar performances. Paul Ruggeri, a 2012 graduate; and C.J. Maestas, a 2015 grad, are two of the 18 men angling for spots in the 2016 Olympic at Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, this August.
Ruggeri won the NCAA vault championship in 2012 and also has excelled in the parallel bars, high bar and floor exercises during his college career. He owns the third-most event titles (75) — at the U of I.
Maestas is a former NCAA champ in the high bar and still rings. He was the Big Ten all-around king in 2012 and is eighth in event championships (49) for the Illini.
The St. Louis Sports Commission has more upcoming major events on its menu. The NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships come to St. Louis’ Scottrade Center in March and the Women’s Frozen Four plays out at the Family Arena in St. Charles, Mo., the same month.