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Olympic medalists join new skating champions to close event

Again they took to the ice and dazzled with their athleticism and grace.

And again, the spectators inside Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena cheered, clapped and tossed trinkets.

The 2010 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships concluded Sunday with the Smucker’s Skating Spectacular, an exhibition featuring the top placers at the novice, junior and senior levels.

After more than a week spent in the stands, the crowd knew what it liked. Fans applauded when gold medalists Jeremy Abbot, Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, and Rachael Flatt repeated their short programs. But the first standing ovation of the night went to 10-year-old Nathan Chen, the 2010 novice men’s champion.

Chen, whose spritely skating to “Peter and the Wolf” was filled with jumps and spins that belied his age, was a crowd favorite.

They were also quick to their feet to acknowledge Shelley Wagner, a 45-year-old skater from East Lansing, Mich., who placed fourth at last year’s World Special Olympics in Boise.

An appearance by America’s 12 Olympic gold medalists also drew an extended ovation. The skaters – Dick Button, Hayes Jenkins, Tenley Albright, Carol Heiss-Jenkins, David Jenkins, Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Scott Hamilton, Brian Boitano, Kristi Yamaguchi, Tara Lipinski and Sarah Hughes – took turns in the spotlight, then all returned to the ice to celebrate the legacy of U.S. skating.

After that, it was time to look at the “now” of U.S. figure skating, as the top finishers in ice dancing, pairs, men’s and ladies skating demonstrated their exhibition routines, designed to reveal their personalities.

It should surprise no one that men’s bronze medalist Johnny Weir, decked out in face paint and a black-and-silver outfit, skated to a song by another noted fashion plate, Lady Gaga. His “Poker Face” routine mixed his trademark artistic flourishes with a strong sampling of his technical skills.

It’s a program that Ashley Wagner, the ladies bronze medalist, enjoys watching.

“If you know Johnny,” she said, “you know that’s who he is.”

Wagner’s own exhibition program took a dramatic change over the weekend: She dumped it Saturday night. She had been skating to a Miley Cyrus song, but said she was tired of it and felt she had outgrown it. So she and her coach picked Lady Gaga’s “Speechless” and adapted her short program routine to match it.

“It’s just a beautiful song,” Wagner said. “It really reflects how I felt about my skating. I just felt it as very appropriate.”

The exhibition had a lighthearted feel. Weir mugged for the cameras and flirted with fans. Ice dancing silver medalist Ben Agosto got a wave going. And when Hamilton, an announcer for NBC Sports, put on his skates and headed onto the ice to interview skaters, it had the crowd hoping for more.

“Skate! Skate! Skate!” they chanted as the 1984 gold medalist sheepishly declined to do anything other than glide.

For fans, Sunday’s event was a final chance to see their favorite skaters, or check out those whose programs they’d missed.

This year’s championship was spread over two weekends, with the men’s and pairs championships first, followed by ice dancing and ladies finals this past weekend.

Kathleen Saul, of Sammamish, Wash., looked forward to seeing the champions in all the events, especially the men and pairs skaters whose events she missed last weekend.

The ice dancing and ladies finals on Saturday, however, exceeded her expectations.

“I was afraid that I would be burned out by the end of the day,” she said.

That didn’t happen. “We went back to the hotel and watched it again on television.”

Her only complaint? The chairs.

“If someone would sell seat cushions,” she said, “they’d make a fortune.”

Maybe Barb Beddor and Toby Steward, whose company Star USA produced the championships, will keep that in mind for next time. Just don’t ask them when that might be. They both laughed at the question.

“You can’t ask us that until everyone is gone,” Beddor said.

It’s likely they’ll bask in the success of this year’s event, which with 158,170 people in the stands over 10 days, broke the attendance record set in Spokane in 2007.

“It’s unbelievable, actually. I’m in a little bit of shock,” Beddor said. “On Oct. 1, I would have said we weren’t going to get there.”

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