HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — It’s being billed as the biggest sporting event to hit Connecticut since the NHL’s Hartford Whalers left town more than a decade ago.

USA Gymnastics and Gov. M. Jodi Rell announced Wednesday that Hartford will play host to next year’s gymnastics national championships. State economic development officials expect at least 25,000 people to attend the event, which will be held Aug. 11-14, 2010.

The men’s and women’s championships will be held at the 15,000-seat XL Center while the rhythmic, acrobatic and trampoline and tumbling competition will take place at the Chase Arena at the University of Hartford, which seats about 3,500.

The Connecticut Convention Center, which opened in 2005, will host the organization’s national congress and trade show that week.

“Hartford, you got it,” shouted former Olympic coach Bela Karolyi, who played the role of fight promoter at Wednesday’s news conference, billing the event as a clash between the old guard of gymnasts, who won 10 medals at the Beijing Olympics, and the next crop of champions. “You got the best coming up.”

Rell said the competition will fill about 10,000 hotel rooms and mean about $8 million in spending at restaurants, retail outlets and other area businesses.

“When you think about what that brings to our community, I’d be doing back flips too,” Rell said.

Robin Deary-Fillmore, owner of Deary’s Gymnastics in Danielson, said it will also give local gymnastics schools a boost.

“It’s going to expand the business, and it’s also going to get the girls so excited that they will want to come in and work harder,” she said.

Hartford has hosted several other major sporting events, including NCAA basketball tournament games, the 1987 Davis Cup matches between the United States and West Germany, and the 2006 Skate America figure skating championships.

But Steve Penny, the president of USA Gymnastics, said there are only a few sporting events that have a bigger impact on a community than this one.

“It’s not necessarily at the same level as the Final Four per se,” said Penny. “But it’s a solid sporting event, with a solid reputation around the country.”

None of that meant anything to 14-year-old gymnast Kathrine Lewis of Thompson, who is just looking forward to seeing her heroes in person.

“I’m really excited,” she said. “They are all my favorite gymnasts and I watch them on TV and it’s just going to be great to see them compete in our state. It’s definitely motivating.”

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