Big event good fit for smaller cities

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NCAA Gymnastics host sites

7 - Utah (1982, 1983, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1994, 1999)

3 - Oregon State (1990, 1993, 2006), UCLA (1984, 1998, 2004), Georgia (1989, 1995, 2001), Alabama

(1991, 1996, 2002)

2 - Florida (1986, 1997)

1 - Minnesota (1992), Boise State (2000), Nebraska (2003),

Auburn (2005)

CORVALLIS, Ore. - As an experienced elite-level and college gymnast, Kristen Riffanacht has learned to block out crowd noise and focus on her routines.

But she admits two years ago, at the NCAA Gymnastics Championships, all of her experience and mental preparation weren't enough to to block out Alabama's loud and persistent fans.

"I was on beam, and they were close by yelling 'Roll Tide Roll' the whole time,' ” she said. "You look around, and all the best teams and their fans are right next to you. It's such a motivating atmosphere."

The consistent chanting of the Alabama fans, the woofing that comes from the Georgia Gym Dogs section, the Florida Gator chomp and the "Red Rocks" cheer of Utah's loyal followers, a group expected to be more than 300-strong - they're all here in the quaint, granola-fueled college town of Corvallis - for the 2006 championships.

Even the most geographically challenged could probably give a good guess as to where Indianapolis and Boston are, the sites of the men's and women's Final Fours. But Corvallis? Events such as the NCAA Championships, which Corvallis is playing host to for the third time, give the town of 50,000 residents a little bit of a big-time feel. All of the hotels are sold out, restaurants are jammed and for once, Corvallis is bustling when there isn't a football game in town.

"This is a great way to showcase our community," Oregon State coach Tanya Chaplin said. "There are a lot of people who may not know where Corvallis is, and they're coming here to see a championship."

How did the little town win a third bid for the championships? It's relatively easy.

Since gymnastics became an NCAA-sanctioned event in 1982, only 10 different cities have hosted the championships. Salt Lake City is the most frequented city as a seven-time host, and the Utes will hold court again next year.

Unlike the larger championships such as football and basketball, the gymnastics championships aren't a cash cow for neutral cities. Schools with teams that aren't virtually guaranteed a spot in the championships are hesitant to go through the work of hosting the event without representation.

As a result, it's become a favorite for small-town universities such as Oregon State and last year's host, Auburn, Ala., and for larger cities with strong programs including UCLA and Utah.

"You don't make much money like the first and second rounds of basketball, but you make a little," Utah coach Greg Marsden said. "The real reason you host is for your team and the fans."

Traveling to to the small towns can be inconvenient. Corvallis is about a two-hour drive from Portland, but Utah fan Scott Monson sees it as a positive.

"We've been to places that you wouldn't really go to otherwise," said Monson, who has attended every NCAA Gymnastics Championships since 1989. "Corvallis is neat; Athens, Ga., was great. It's not like you have 40,000 people running around trying to get into a football game."

With its azalea-lined streets and coffee houses, Corvallis is a charming town to some, but others do see its limitations.

"They don't even have a mall," Utah junior Nicolle Ford grumbled. "At least Auburn had a little one. I guess we're all going to have a lot of time to do homework."