Spokane skates on some thick ice

The Lilac City hosts the U.S. Figure Skating Championships for the second time in four years.
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Jeremy Abbott skated his way to victory at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Spokane.

The Lilac City hosts the U.S. Figure Skating Championships for the second time in four years.

While tourism and hospitality folks in Western Washington are wondering whether winter sports fans will trickle south before and after the 2010 Olympic Winter Games that open Feb. 12 in Vancouver, Spokane has been silently gloating about its second successful hosting of the 2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

The Lilac City first hosted the championships in 2007, attracting an attendance of 154,893, which shattered the record set by Los Angeles in 2002. And for 11 days in January, Washington state's second-largest city scored again by hosting the pre-Olympics event. That's when 158,170 fanatical figure-skating fans showed up at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena to watch the top figure skaters compete for a coveted spot on the U.S. Winter Olympics Team. The championships were expected to deliver an estimated economic impact of more than $25.7 million to Spokane, plus the glory of 13 hours of coverage on NBC. In the end, 13.7 million television viewers tuned in to watch the battle of the blades — that's a lot of exposure for little 'ol Spokaloo.

I was one of the thousands of fans in the stands during opening weekend of the championships. Although admittedly not as wacky as many of them, like the two sequin-sweatshirted gals in front of me who were maniacally jotting down scores and scowling at me when I dared talk about anything besides the ice, I'm somewhat of a closet figure-skating fan. On many a rainy weekend I've been known to flip the station to CBC to watch a Canadian figure skating event while others in the family would prefer sports of a different flavor. What, you don't enjoy seeing the flamboyant Johnny Weir gazelle around the ice dressed like Big Bird?

It was even more special attending the U.S. Figure Skating Championships this year, as I doubt I'll be scoring any tickets for the Winter Games. A check with CoSport, the official ticket agent of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, shows tickets available for the Men's Short Program on Feb. 16. But they're just four bucks short of $700 per ducat, so I'll be watching the event from my couch.

I was fortunate to see the Senior Men's Short Program in Spokane, and rooting for Johnny Weir to take top honors. Although he didn't finish first, he and fellow skaters Evan Lysacek and Jeremy Abbott will be part of the U.S. Men's Winter Olympics Team. Coincidentally, I sat next to ESPN's Jim Caple on the flight from Seattle to Spokane, and the senior sportswriter had recently interviewed Weir. Turns out it wasn't your typical sports interview, as Caple and the ice skater spent the day together in New York City — at a spa having manicures and pedicures.

Maybe that's why my hubby prefers watching those other sports on TV.


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