INDIANAPOLIS – The stars of the 2003 World Gymnastics Championships are on their way to New York after accepting invitations today for the 2004 Visa American Cup to be held at 2:30 p.m. Feb. 28 at Madison Square Garden.
2003 World Championships team gold medalist and All-Around silver medalist Carly Patterson will be joined on the U.S. women’s roster by her gold medal teammates Chellsie Memmel and Tasha Schwikert, and Pan American Games gold medalist Courtney McCool. The men’s line-up will feature 2003 World All-Around gold medalist Paul Hamm, along with his 2003 World silver medal teammates Blaine Wilson, Jason Gatson, and Morgan Hamm.
“The Visa American Cup annually features the top names in the world of gymnastics, and 2004 will be no different,” said USA Gymnastics President Bob Colarossi. “We’re very pleased to bring a solid line-up of World medalists to New York City to kick off what should be an amazing Olympic year for USA Gymnastics.”
The 2004 Visa American Cup is annually one of the most prestigious international competitions on the gymnastics calendar. This world-class event, held for the eighth time in Madison Square Garden, is the first stop on the road to Athens for the 2004 Olympic Games.
“This event is all about the athletes – and success for us here at the Visa American Cup is seeing those athletes compete at the highest level,” said Jennifer Hemmer, Director of Event and Sponsorship Marketing for Visa USA. “This year’s Visa American Cup is even more important, as 2004 Olympic hopefuls will take part in the competition. Visa is proud to have a relationship with USA Gymnastics and the Olympic Games, and the Visa American Cup allows our Member Banks to connect with the spirit and excitement of competition.”
The Visa American Cup competition features four of America’s rising stars challenged by four of the world’s best for the coveted all-around title, and a total prize purse of $45,000. Each male and female all-around champion will win $10,000. The 2004 Visa American Cup will be broadcast live on NBC Sports from 4-6 p.m. EST on Feb. 28.
The Visa American Cup enjoyed a five-year run at Madison Square Garden from the inception of the event in 1976 through 1980, and returned to MSG in 1982-1984. The event is responsible for launching the careers of such stars as Bart Conner, Nadia Comaneci, Mary Lou Retton and Kurt Thomas.
“We’re honored to be able to play host to the world’s greatest gymnasts here at The World’s Most Famous Arena,” said Joel Fisher, senior vice president of Madison Square Garden. “There have been extraordinary gymnastic performances on the floor of The Garden in the past, and we’re very pleased that New York fans and fans from around the world will have the opportunity to experience this memorable event.”
Team USA enters the contest fresh off its historic success at the 2003 World Championships in which the U.S. women won the nation’s first-ever World Championships women’s team gold, and Paul Hamm won the USA’s first ever men’s all-around gold medal. The United States won seven medals in all, including five golds.
Patterson returns to defend her title at the Visa American Cup, after leading a U.S. team sweep in Fairfax, Virginia earlier this year. The event served as a coming out party for the confident 15-year-old, who anchored the U.S. squad in Anaheim to win the team gold medal.
Memmel was the surprise performer of the World Championships. The alternate-turned-starter was cast into the line-up just days before the event, yet she shined like a veteran, leading all competitors with the highest all-around marks in the team finals, and later earning an uneven bars gold of her own.
Schwikert, a two-time Visa American Cup champ, is the sport’s only returning veteran in 2004. The 2000 Olympian is also a two-time National Champion, and served as captain of the 2003 World Championships Team.
McCool is the next up-and-comer to be introduced at the Visa American Cup. McCool finished second in the All-Around at the U.S. Championships Jr. division a year ago and later won team gold and vault silver at the 2003 Pan American Games.
Paul Hamm is the only U.S. male to have earned the title of World All-Around Champion, making him a leading contender for a medal in Athens. Hamm missed the 2003 Visa American Cup due to a shoulder injury, but recovered in time to win the U.S. All-Around title in front of a hometown crowd in Milwaukee. He also nabbed floor exercise gold and team silver at Worlds. Paul and Morgan are relocating to Columbus, Ohio this winter to train alongside Worlds teammates Blaine Wilson and Raj Bhavsar.
However, Hamm’s new teammate is probably also his biggest rival. Wilson is no stranger to the top step of the podium at the Visa American Cup, having captured the honor five times since 1997, including 2003. Wilson is also a two-time Olympian and USA Gymnastics’ only five-time consecutive national champion.
Gatson continues his remarkable comeback from four knee surgeries by landing a role as a stalwart among the U.S. team. Gatson finished an amazing second place at the U.S. Championships, and went on to an eighth-place finish in the All-Around at the World Championships.
Morgan Hamm competed side-by-side with his brother Paul last season for the first time since the 2000 Olympic Games. Morgan is the two-time reigning floor exercise national champion and finished fourth in the All-Around at the 2003 U.S. Championships.
All eight athletes have accepted their invitations to compete, and will be evaluated in February to ensure they are prepared for the competition. The international line-up will be announced in the coming weeks.
Tickets are on sale now to the general public through www.ticketmaster.com, by calling 212-307-7171, at www.thegarden.com, by visiting the Madison Square Garden box office, or through local gymnastics clubs listed at www.usa-gymnastics.org.