Not surprising and definitely deserved, praise for Spokane was the first order of business when U.S. Figure Skating officials held a press conference at the Arena Thursday afternoon.
“The support and enthusiasm of this community are unmatched,” president Patricia St. Peter said. “U.S. Figure Skating goes all over the country and we have not experienced anywhere else the experience we have had here in Spokane. … It is just phenomenal.”
“We’re looking at the two highest ticket sales ever for the U.S. Championships in our 90 years,” executive director David Raith said.
With two days of competition plus the exhibition on Sunday, the 2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships is near the record of more than 154,000 tickets set in Spokane in 2007.
St. Peter and Raith addressed a number of issues, none more important to many than the schedule, which for the first time stretched over two weekends to accommodate NBC television.
“We want to reassure everybody, this is a one-time endeavor over two weekends,” Raith said. “Next year we go back to our one weekend schedule and in the foreseeable future we’ll be on the one weekend schedule.”
The No. 1 reason for the prolonged schedule was to accommodate the athletes, he said. “The way the schedule is set there is a minimum of four weeks between their last event here and their first event at the Winter Olympic Games.”
As for television, all four events receive some live weekend coverage. NBC is broadcasting five hours on Saturday and four on Sunday, with two each day in prime time. Also, NBC and Universal Sports have committed to television nationals, the World Championship and Gran Prix events for the next three seasons.
St. Peter pointed to U.S. Figure Skating’s response to confusion about the new judging system. That includes the in-house audio system they call Skating Radio, a pamphlet that explains the International Judging System and the opportunity to judge an event at Fan Fest.
The pressure’s on
The 2011 Figure Skating Championships are in Greensboro, N.C., and Hill Carrow, chairman of the event, knows he has his work cut out for him.
“We already feel the pressure,” he said. “We knew Spokane set the bar really high. In 2007 they did some fantastic things to fuel awareness, educate the community.”
Then he arrived in Spokane.
“When we got here on site, what really dawns on you … is how the community has really gotten behind and embraced the event,” he said. “It’s just fantastic and really amazing.”
Carrow’s interaction with everyone he has come in contact with has made a huge impact.
“When I said, ‘You guys must be part southern or something,’ I got, ‘That’s northwest hospitality for you,’ ” he said. “We always pride ourselves in the South that we have very friendly, very cordial, always wanting to be helpful volunteers. Obviously, we do not have the corner on that market at all.
“I’ll have to go back to make sure everybody is bringing their best Southern hospitality to the forefront just to match this. I don’t know that we could exceed it. But if we match it that would still be really good.”
Go for it
Madison and Keiffer Hubbell came to Spokane hoping to contend for an Olympic berth in Seniors Ice Dancing.
The brother/sister team kept the dream alive during the compulsory dance Thursday at the Spokane Arena.
They tallied 34.33 points and are in fifth going into tonight’s original dance, the second of the three-dance competition that concludes Saturday with free dance.
Three berths to the Olympics are at stake and Meryl Davis and Charlie White and Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto are considered all but locks for two berths.
Just ahead of the Hubbells in third and fourth, respectively, are Kim Navarro/Brent Bommentre (37.60) and Emily Samuelson/Evan Bates (37.36).
The Hubbells, Michigan natives, said they focused especially on compulsory dance.
“We worked really hard on this one,” Madison said. “It’s a hard dance. It finally came together a week ago.”
They like where they stand after the first day.
“I think anybody is in contention,” Madison said.
“You saw what happened to Rockne (Brubaker) and Keauna (McLaughlin),” Keiffer said of the defending Senior pairs champs who stumbled last weekend. “Anything can happen.”
The Hubbells did something unusual this year. They made a coaching switch midseason.
“I think we both thought it was time for a change of environment and just a fresh perspective,” Keiffer said.
“We weighed our options of whether we should wait or just go ahead – especially since we’re not one of the teams right up there fighting for the Olympics,” she said. “We just figured why wait. We might as well have a head start for next year and switch in the middle of the season. It’s worked out very well.”
They’ve tweaked their technique. But they’re changes that the untrained eye won’t necessarily notice, they said.
“I think our competition readiness is better now,” Madison said. “We’ve worked a lot on being able to perform in stressful situations – embracing nerves and using them. We’re really excited with the direction that we’re headed.”
Altitude? What altitude?
Samuelson and Bates were asked what they thought of Spokane’s altitude – which, according to a Google search, is 1,879 feet.
“I didn’t even know there was altitude here,” Samuelson said.
Bates was still trying to catch his breath when the question was posed.
“The lights are so bright and the adrenaline is pumping and when you get to competition you feel like you’re going to jump out of your skin you’re so excited,” he said. “You kind of need to bring that level of excitement down so you are able to skate like you do at home in practice. I don’t know if it’s the altitude or excitement or whatever, but I’m still out of breath.”
As expected, siblings Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani blew away the field in Junior Ice Dance.
Skating to “Tango Rhapsody,” Maia, 15, and Alex, 18, scored 88.8 points in the free dance, for a total of 180.69 after three days of competition.
The battle was for second place with Rachel Tibbetts and Collin Brubaker edging Piper Gilles and Zachary Donohue, 160.61-160.21.
Tibbetts, 18, and Brubaker, 20, from Colorado Springs, Colo., were third after the original dance, but moved up after skating to “En Aranjuez Con Tu Amor” by Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman, scoring 78.36.
Gilles, 17, from Colorado Springs, and Donahoe, 18, from Madison, Conn., performed to medley of music, including “The Man Who Knew Too Much.” by Bernard Hermann.