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Skating stars wait their turn

Associated Press

PORTLAND — The big stars — Michelle Kwan, Sasha Cohen and Michael Weiss — won’t appear until later this week, but Portland’s Memorial Coliseum was already filled with the shooshing of skates as the U.S. Figure Skating Championships kicked off Sunday.

Novice and junior events mark the first two days of the championships, held at the Memorial Coliseum and the Rose Garden next door. Opening ceremonies are scheduled for Wednesday night.

The weeklong competition is expected to bring in up to $30 million to Portland, according to Mike Rosenberg, the event’s managing director.

The city last hosted the nationals in 1978, but figure skating has grown in visibility since then, in part because of the infamous “Whack Heard ‘Round The World.”

That started at the 1994 nationals in Detroit when Nancy Kerrigan was stuck in the knee with a retractable baton. Her cries of “Why me?’ were splashed across news broadcasts.

Rival skater Tonya Harding — who grew up in the Portland area — was implicated in the attack, although she still claims she had nothing to do with it.

Harding eventually pleaded guilty in 1998 to conspiracy to hinder prosecution. Today, she trains in Portland as a professional boxer. She was banned from competition for life by U.S. Figure Skating, the sport’s governing body.

Skating’s image is considerably tamer today by comparison, but the drama between Harding and Kerrigan and their eventual showdown in Lillehammer brought many new fans to the sport.

“You can see the emotion on their faces, you can see everything that they’re putting into it,” Rosenberg said. “I think that’s why it’s so appealing.”

Kwan is the sport’s reigning queen with eight national championships, and is again the favorite among the women this year. The 24-year-old needs one more title to tie Maribel Vinson Owen for most in American skating history.

The women open competition with short programs on Thursday.

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