MONTREAL - Bringing in 1976 Olympics great Nadia Comaneci as a spokesperson for the world gymnastics championships was a natural, but mixed martial arts star Georges St-Pierre was a surprise.
The two athletes were announced on Wednesday as ambassadors for the 2017 world artistic gymnastics championships, to be staged in October, 2017 at Olympic Stadium.
It turns out that St-Pierre, who is preparing for a return to the octagon after a three-year hiatus, is a big supporter of gymnastics and has practised it in the past.
"I love gymnastics," the 35-year-old said. "To make a parallel with martial arts, it's not a sport, it's a discipline of life.
"Whatever you do — you roll over, or your cat is in a tree and you have to climb up — it's gymnastics. It is everything that has to do with movement. And when you do it at a young age, it helps build the foundation that can translate to any other sport. That's why I think it's so important."
Canadian Olympic gymnast Scott Morgan of North Vancouver, B.C., said St-Pierre is no stranger to the sport.
"We've been here (in Montreal) for a few training camps over the years and he's popped in a couple of times and chatted with us," said Morgan. "He wanted to meet us.
"He's a great guy, really humble and a huge advocate for the sport. To have him support the championships and gymnastics in Canada is super cool."
The world championships, which coincides with the city's 375th anniversary celebrations, is to be held in a 10,000-seat "theatre" arrangement inside the 55,000-seat Olympic Stadium. Organizers are expecting that the lure of the sport itself and the presence of stars like 2016 Rio Olympics quadruple gold medallist Simone Biles of the United States will sell out the venue.
Event president Richard Crepin said the 1985 world championships in Montreal sold out and it was among the fastest-selling tickets at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto, so this one should be just as popular.
Canada's team is led by 21-year-old Ellie Black of Halifax, who was fifth in the individual all-around competition in Rio after winning three events at the Toronto Pan Ams.
Comaneci, the first gymnast to record perfect 10 scores at the 1976 Games in Montreal, was quick to agree to become a spokesperson when approached more than a year ago. She and her husband, former U.S. gymnast Bart Conner, run a gymnastics academy in Norman, Okla., but she makes frequent visits to Montreal.
"I'm happy they thought about me, Montreal is a big part of my life," said Comaneci, 54.
She said playing host to the world championships can help spur young people to take up the sport.
"I asked about the number of kids doing gymnastics (in Canada) and they said about 60,000," she said. "That's a big number.
"Romania used to produce a lot of good gymnasts and we were only 100 or 200. I think it's nice to have world championships everywhere in the world because kids get inspired and they want to be a part of it. The Olympics are always a big boost for the sport."
She said the year after an Olympics is especially interesting because it often pits established stars against newcomers eager to take over for the next four-year Olympic cycle.
"I'm curious to see who is coming up now," she said.