See more of the story

A hefty chunk of the state's political power structure took a bow on a makeshift podium Monday morning to kick off the arrival of "Gymnastics City USA" in Minneapolis.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Gov. Tim Walz and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey were joined on Target Field Plaza by Wendy Blackshaw, the CEO of Minnesota Sports and Events, and Li Li Leung, the CEO of USA Gymnastics, to celebrate what Leung said was "the single largest event USA Gymnastics has ever put on."

Blackshaw said 6,000 participants will hit the Twin Cities and "tens of thousands more" family, friends or fans will join them for the U.S. Olympic trials in women's and men's artistic gymnastics; the national championships in rhythmic gymnastics, trampoline, tumbling and acrobatic gymnastics; the USA Gymnastics National Congress and Trade Show; and USA Gymnastics for All GymFest.

The celebratory atmosphere was drenched in sun and shared praise for a bipartisan effort that stretched from the U.S. Senate to the Minneapolis Downtown Council.

"At a time when things are so highly polarized and people are viewing social media and getting mad all the time, sports is something that brings our country together," Klobuchar said. "It's one team and it's Team USA." She paused briefly. "Ironically this is launching off during the presidential debates. I'm well aware of the differences people feel and I think this is a moment where Minnesota can come together and cheer on one team."

The events unspool all week before culminating with the naming of the United States men's Olympic team on Saturday and the women's Olympic team on Sunday at Target Center, but competition was already well underway by the time the news conference began.

Gymnasts competing this week in MInneapolis stand to be recognized as local politicians welcome athletes and visitors to Gymnastics City USA during a news conference at the Target Field Plaza on Monday.
Gymnasts competing this week in MInneapolis stand to be recognized as local politicians welcome athletes and visitors to Gymnastics City USA during a news conference at the Target Field Plaza on Monday.

Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

At 9 a.m. the Minneapolis Convention Center was crawling with young gymnasts and their families. Training and age-group competition in acrobatics, trampoline, tumbling and rhythmic gymnastics had started Friday.

Joanna Bednarek of Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., was watching her daughter Izabella in synchronized trampoline inside Hall D. The ceiling was orbed in blue lighting, and girls stood waiting their turn in matching leotards. Izabella started bouncing, lining up timing with her teammate. Joanna recorded, the girls flew, their bodies chasing symbiosis. It was over in a matter of moments as judges marked scores.

Over the weekend, Izabella had taken fourth place in individual trampoline for level 9, age 15-plus. Her younger sister, Maya, was here, too. They train at World Elite in Orange County, Calif., and Izabella's coach Logan Dooley, a former Olympian, was hyping her up before her routine.

The Bednareks are leaving town Tuesday, before the big events get underway. They are like most athletes traveling to the state this week: They are not competing on an Olympic scale, and even for the elite gymnasts at the Olympic trials, most will go home not making the national team.

Frey has familiarity with that, having participated in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in track and field as a marathoner in 2008 before the start of his political career.

"For a huge chunk of them, this is the culmination of a whole lot of work," he said. "They might never ever go to Paris, but they are going to be competing here and they will have trained, in some cases, for 10-12 years to get to the place where they are now."

Frey said in that space, the city wants to provide essential necessities and a positive experience: smooth travel from the airport, easy directions from hotels, available restaurants for families and athletes and a public safety presence downtown.

It will require the efforts of thousands of Minnesotans on a micro level to make that happen.

Eldon Young, the owner of Image Graphics in Waconia, was doing his part Monday. He stood on a ladder in the skyway on Nicollet Mall between 7th and 8th Street. His employee, Colin Wright, handed him a spray bottle with a soapy mixture. Young soaked the window, grabbed a squeegee and started applying a gigantic "Promenade du Nord" sign, easily visible from street level.

Minnesota Sports and Events is opening a Parisian street market there Thursday. It will feature 60 Minnesota vendors and kick off with more than 1,000 gymnasts doing a routine set to Prince music.

Eldon Young stands on a ladder while Colin Wright helps him apply a 'Promenade du Nord' print to the skyway windows above Nicollet Mall.
Eldon Young stands on a ladder while Colin Wright helps him apply a 'Promenade du Nord' print to the skyway windows above Nicollet Mall.

Jeff Day, Star Tribune

The graphics were made by Vomela Companies in St. Paul. More featuring gymnasts are going up near Target Center this week.

Wright, 17, said he fell in love with the process of applying the graphics and started learning the trade from his boss two years ago. Young, standing on the ladder, said, "Oh you like that explanation better than saying you date my daughter?"

It's the little things and the big things that make a gigantic event go well for a city.

Walz said Minneapolis continues to earn its reputation as a place that can get it done.

"We know how to do this," he said. "Whether it's the Big Ten men's and women's basketball tournaments, whether it's Super Bowls, whether it's the 40th anniversary of the release of 'Purple Rain' and the parties that go with it, folks are rejuvenating, and folks are committed to this great city."