Chapel Hill: Sports

Figure on some great skating at the U.S. Championships

Olympic ice dancing champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White are scheduled to take part in the opening ceremonies in Greensboro.
Olympic ice dancing champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White are scheduled to take part in the opening ceremonies in Greensboro. AP

North Carolina: a college basketball Mecca? Sure. NASCAR hub? No argument.

From blues to blue grass, from birdies to bogeys, look no further than the “old North State.” But center of the national figure skating world? That may be harder to swallow than Texas barbecue.

Well, a funny thing happened on the way to the Coliseum ... and it’s coming back next week.

Thanks in no small part to the savvy and diligence of Cary-based Sports & Properties, Inc. as the host agency, the U.S. Figure Skating is coming to the Greensboro Coliseum Complex, running Jan. 18-25, returning just four years after a successful 2011 Championship at the same venue.

The week-long staging of U.S. Figure Skating’s premier event will feature hundreds of the nation’s top skaters competing in women’s, men’s, pairs and ice dancing categories. But the competition will also be a stage for both skaters and volunteers based locally, including a contingent of figure skaters from the Orange County SportsPlex who will be skating during the event’s opening ceremonies.

U.S. Figure Skating went out on a limb to bring a national championship to North Carolina, said Hill Carrow, Chairman for the Championships and CEO of SPI, a sports and entertainment marketing, development, and management firm.

“The fact that they’re bringing it back so soon makes a real statement about the quality of our hosting efforts the last time around,” Carrow said

Carrow, a former varsity swimmer for the University of North Carolina, admits that Tobacco Road never seemed like the intuitive choice as center of the figure skating world.

“It doesn’t come naturally,” he said. “Hey, figure skating isn’t NASCAR, golf, basketball or football. We worked really hard on marketing and advertising to get the word out: that’s been critical.”

The Championships will receive 10 hours of national network television coverage and should positively impact the North Carolina economy to the tune of around $30 million, an SPI press release stated.

Held annually since 1914, the Championships will crown 20 national champions in five divisions, the release added. Prior national champions include Michelle Kwan, Kristi Yamaguchi, Johnny Weir and Brian Boitano.

Other recent host cities include Spokane, Boston and San Jose. Greensboro is the first city in East since New York City in 1945 to host the event twice in four years.

The nod from U.S. Figure Skating was the result of cooperative efforts by SPI as well as the Greensboro Sports Commission, Greensboro Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the newly renovated Greensboro Coliseum Complex.

But the event will also be a showcase for figure skating talent from throughout the state, including that of 22 skaters from the Orange County SportsPlex.

“Skaters from Greensboro and Hillsborough represent a third of the opening ceremonies presentation, Raleigh skaters represent another third, and Charlotte skaters represent a third” said Jamye Gastor, SportsPlex age group skating coach and director of Carolina Ice Synchro.

The 90,000 square foot Orange County SportsPlex in Hillsborough is one of only a few in the U.S. offering an ice arena, aquatics center, and a fitness center under one roof.

“Our skaters have met since October to put the whole piece together, which portrays the story of a skater’s life, the struggles and the triumph,” Gastor explained. “They’re also excited to skate at the Greensboro Coliseum. The Ladies Short program follows the opening ceremonies, and they get to meet (Olympic ice dance medalists) Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who are also participating in the opening ceremonies.”

Gastor said the value of such an opportunity is beyond measure.

“It’s just fantastic for the skaters that I coach to be able to see the people on ice that they’ve seen on TV and (consider) their skating idols,” said Gastor, who has skaters as young as 6 years old participating. “They’re star struck, beside themselves, and so excited they barely know what to do.”

The 2015 event presents new challenges for SPI and Greensboro as well, however.

“U.S. Figure Skating expanded the Championships to include Juvenile and Intermediate categories as well as the traditional Novices, Juniors and Seniors, which means the number of athletes has gone from 250 to right around 400. They’ve also added a day to the competition, and instead of 12, there’ll be 20 national champions.”

Carrow said that SPI and Greensboro remain the best choice as hosts.

“The Coliseum underwent a renovation with new seating, new video boards, expanded concourses with new restaurants, new concessions, new restroom facilities and new VIP hospitality seats,” he said. “Plus, the headquarters at the Sheraton had a $30 million renovation.”

Carrow said that the Coliseum offers another unique advantage.

“In 2011, we got a lot of great reviews,” he said. “In U.S. Figure Skating’s 100-year history, they had never had their competition, practice and a fan fest all under one roof until then, but the Greensboro complex is uniquely set up to let us do that, and the athletes, coaches, and officials really love that. This past year in Boston, athletes had to go to four different locations, which meant 20-minute rides by shuttle buses.”

Carrow said “Southern Hospitality” wasn’t overlooked either.

“No matter what crisis comes up, our volunteers are just like, ‘We’re here for you; we’ll help you any way we can,’” he said. “All these factors came together to really ‘wow’ U.S. Figure Skating.”

Along with the SportsPlex skaters, volunteers will be pouring out of the local community and into Greensboro.

“Several of us are working with the opening ceremonies,” Gastor said, “But there are also parents who are involved like Ki Abel from Chapel Hill, who is a team leader of the sweepers who clear off all of the teddy bears and flowers that the crowd throws onto the ice after a performance. We have parents who are volunteering in all kinds of areas.”

But for all the talent on display, fans will make for a successful event. The 2011 U.S. Championships reached new milestones with over 161,500 attendees, a new Greensboro Coliseum Complex all-time event record, but Carrow believes there’s even more reasons for fans to attend.

“We’ve expanded aspects of the free fan fest with activities going on almost constantly,” Carrow said. “Also, we’ve really tried to make sure even the top-tier events are super affordable, so three of our events will be only $10, and there are $15 tickets available for the Ladies Championship finals, which are always the biggest event.”

For more information on the 2015 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, see www.2015USChampionships.com.

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