Why Arkansas gymnastics is hosting a meet at Bud Walton Arena for the first time

Aug 7, 2012; London, United Kingdom; Jordyn Wieber (USA), right, gets a hug from coach John Geddert (left) after competing in the women's floor exercise final during the 2012 London Olympic Games at North Greenwich Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
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The "basketball palace of mid-America" might soon need to add gymnastics to that title. For the first time in program history, No. 15 Arkansas will hold a meet at Bud Walton Arena rather than its usual Barnhill Arena on Friday (7:15 p.m., SECN).

Coach Jordyn Wieber has wanted to host a meet at Bud Walton since she arrived in 2019.

"I absolutely love the environment in Barnhill Arena," Wieber said Wednesday. "But I quickly realized that with the growth of the program, the level of the gymnastics and also the fanbase growing that we were going to outgrow Barnhill a little bit."

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Arkansas gymnastics set attendance records in Wieber's first season, and the increases continued. The average attendance that year was 3,000, and in 2020, it was more than 5,000 according to a team spokesperson. Friday's meet is an audition of sorts for Bud Walton to become gymnastics' new home.

"My vision is hopefully, long term, we can make this our permanent competition arena," Wieber said. "But we're just going to take it one step at a time."

Bud Walton was going to be the site of a meet in 2021, but COVID-19 concerns kept the team at Barnhill. Although the rest of the meets this season will be at Barnhill, the added bonus Friday is Auburn and 2020 Olympic all-around champion Sunisa Lee.

Wieber said Lee's presence was not the reason for the the larger venue. Rather, scheduling around men's and women's basketball meant the Jan. 14 meet was ideal.

"We wanted our fans to come out and see a lot of great gymnastics, and the Auburn meet just happened to be the one that worked best," Wieber said. "It just so happens that (Lee) is on their team, and we're going to have some great talent in the building."

Between Wieber, Lee and Arkansas volunteer assistant coach Kyla Ross, there will be three Olympic gold medalists in the building Friday. Wieber and Ross were members of the U.S. team that won gold in 2012 at London. Ross was also the first woman to win NCAA, World and Olympic championships.

With a men's basketball game Wednesday night and a women's game Sunday afternoon, operations staff will have to work overnight to get the gymnastics equipment set up, as the gymnastics team will need to practice in the temporary space Thursday. Wieber estimated that the setup process takes seven to eight hours, and athletics staff have been working on the logistics since November.

Wieber said the goal is to have 10,000 fans in attendance. With a resurgence of COVID-19 concerns and students not yet back for the spring semester, that goal could be hard to reach. But, Wieber said, it's a historic meet for the program regardless.

"I can tell that everybody's really excited and really supportive," she said. "I'm excited to see how it goes Friday night."

Christina Long covers the Arkansas Razorbacks. You can email her at clong@swtimes.com or follow her on Twitter @christinalong00.

This article originally appeared on Fort Smith Times Record: Why Arkansas gymnastics is having its first meet at Bud Walton Arena

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