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Numbers Tell All, Skating is Back in the Center Spotlight

TV ratings, event attendance and Internet hits indicate skating is one hot public commodity

 by Liz Leamy

Twin Rinks complex Lobby in East Meadow, New York



Jason Brown with Skyliner Lily Young



Alexa Scimeca & Chris Knierim Sign Autographs after Show

(5 October 2014)  Skating's popularity seems to be on a major upward trajectory these days in review of the media stats that have come out this past year.

In January, more than 4.12 million viewers tuned in to watch the U.S. ladies final free skate live at the TD Garden in Boston, according to Nielsen ratings, representing an increase of nearly 40 percent in the age 18 to 49 category compared to 2013.

According to U.S. Figure Skating executives, these numbers were telling and important.

“The experience of our athletes, coaches, officials, staff and most of all, our fans, had in Boston was overwhelmingly positive,” said David Raith, U.S. Figure Skating Executive Director.

In the weeks leading up to the Sochi Olympics, U.S. Figure Skating Olympic team members were constantly being looked up on major Internet search engines, including Gracie Gold, who ranked as one of the top-three most Googled names in early February, according to the New York Post.

In addition, attendance at the 2014 U.S. Championships also hit its biggest high in years, with more than 14,000 people showing up to watch Gracie Gold clinch the U.S. title at the TD Garden in Boston, representing the largest single-session crowd on record at a U.S. Championships since 2002.

According to the sport’s directors, the recent surge in the sport’s popularity is largely due to the superior standard of the skaters and Herculean efforts of the figure skating community, including the coaches, parents, executives, managers, officials, volunteers and fans.

“The skating of the [U.S.] competitors reflects the efforts of so many people who have been committed to making American figure skating the best it can be,” said Jimmie Santee, Executive Director of the Professional Skaters Association, the national coaches’ organization and sport’s educational arm based in Rochester, Minnesota.

This year, Jason Brown, the U.S. silver medalist, also played a major role in helping put the sport back in the public spotlight with his electrifying (and winning) ‘Riverdance’ free skate he performed at the TD Garden in January.

To date, his performance has generated more than 4.8 million YouTube views, making it one of the most watched figure skating performances ever on the Internet.

“I love to perform and bring skating to people, that’s what drives me,” said Brown, who clinched gold at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Obersdorf, Germany last week.

Ice Dreams attracts sell-out crowd to brand-new Long Island facility

The good times for the sport appear to be continuing, as more than 2,600 people showed up on Saturday, September 20, to watch America’s top contenders perform in ‘Ice Dreams,’ a kick-off event celebrating the opening of the new state-of-the-art Twin Rinks complex in East Meadow, New York.

Headliners included the venerable Brown, as well as Caydee Denney and John Coughlin, 2012 U.S. pairs titlists, Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim, 2013 U.S pairs silver medalists, Mariah Bell, U.S. junior silver medalist, Jimmy Ma, U.S. junior bronze medalist and Samantha Cesario, a New York-based competitor who was sixth at the U.S. Championships.

Tara Modlin, the show’s producer, attributed the show’s success to the sell-out crowd, saying their unbridled energy and enthusiasm helped fuel the skaters’ performances.

“There’s something that happens when skaters perform in a venue that’s filled to capacity,” she said. “When I went into the locker room to tell the skaters there was a standing-room only crowd, they lit up.”

On this night, electricity seemed to permeate throughout the building, that’s for sure.

At the show’s start, Sarah Hughes, the 2002 U.S. Olympic champion who grew up and trained for many years in Long Island, cited the impact shows and events such as this one have on the sport.

“This is where it all starts,” she said, holding the hand of her three-year old niece, Charlotte, dressed in a sparkling costume and helmet.

This show certainly seemed to hit the mark on every front, which seemed appropriate as it was the official opening of this 165,000 square-foot facility, a privately funded 15 million-dollar venue located near Jones Beach state park in Long Island. It features two NHL-sized rinks, an outdoor arena, an expansive lobby with a fireplace and several workout and locker rooms.

“The owners are incredible,” said Mary Lynn Gelderman, the reputable New York-based Olympic and World team coach who is the skating director. “They are people with vision.”

Brown brings it home

Brown was much of the reason for the show’s success, wowing the crowd with his short program to Walter Mitty’s ‘Juke’ and ‘Cotton-Eyed Joe,’ a show routine he used in Stars on Ice last spring.

In both performances, he executed high, beautifully rotated triple Lutzes, flips and toe loops an did some soaring Russian split jumps, rubber band-like spins and a low hydro that generated deafening applause.

“I love being here in New York and have had such a great time,” said Brown, who trains with Kori Ade in Monument, Colorado. “The people were incredible and the rink is amazing.”

Scimeca and Knierim, who scored bronze in Obersdorf, agreed.

“It has been great being here in New York, it’s one of my favorite states,” said Scimeca, who trains with Knierim under Delilah Sappenfield in Colorado Springs. “I love it every time we get to come here.”

Other performers included senior and pre-juvenile teams from the Skyliners, a nationally ranked New York-area based synchronized organization and more than 120 young up-and-coming contenders, including Emelia Murdock, a standout 11 year-old juvenile contender who trains with Gelderman at Twin Rinks.

“I think it (the show) represents a means of introducing skating to the people and this was a way of really bringing it home,” said Gelderman, who coached Elaine Zayak, the 1982 World champion with Peter Burrows, who had passed away last April. “Over the next few years, I see limitless possibility here.”

Josh Babb, head coach of the Skyliners, was thrilled to have his teams perform.

“I’m so glad that synchro has been part of the show,” he said. “It has been a fantastic opportunity for the Long Island community to see a skating display of this type.”

At the same time, coaches were excited about the impact of the show on the younger generation.

“This has been an extraordinary opportunity for young skaters to watch and admire some of U.S. Figure Skating’s top talent,” said Dawn Wagner, a Twin Rinks staff coach who has taught skaters through the national level. “It’s exciting to be part of this experience, because it’s all about helping to build the sport to its biggest possible extent.”

No doubt, this statement, along with the aforementioned stats seem to indicate that figure skating is growing as fast as ever and certainly securing its place as a main event in every way.

“I think the U.S. has a wealth of talent and I would like to do everything I can to help make the sport grow and help athletes reach their full potential,” said Gelderman. “I think this [show] was a way of really bringing it home.”