CBC Sports

Hollywood nights: Figure skating hits the main stage in Los Angeles

Posted: Friday, March 20, 2009 | 11:05 AM

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On the cutting edge of the world figure skating championships, we’re looking at a sport searching for rave reviews and the exalted place it once occupied in the North American consciousness.

It won’t come easily and L.A. is a tough town when it comes to these matters. Hollywood has seen a bevy of stars come and go. Now we’ll find out if the current crop of blade runners has staying power – the possibility of thrusting figure skating from “Off Broadway” to the “Silver Screen.”

“If the sport can’t do it with a North American Olympics to be seen on prime time television, it may never do it,” says Kevin Albrecht of Insight Sports, the company handling the marketing of Skate Canada. “I’m optimistic it can happen. This new group of skaters will bring a whole new demographic to the thing.”

Re-inventing the sport

Indeed, there’s hope figure skating can shake itself out of the doldrums. It is a prolonged downturn that has occurred in the wake of the judging scandals that plagued the Nagano and Salt Lake City Olympics. People lost faith in skating and to make matters worse, its headliners created little buzz in North America.

The growth has come in Asia where superstars like world champion Mao Asada of Japan and Yu-Na Kim of South Korea have developed fanatical followings. Children and adults swoon and buildings are full whenever the international competitors come to Tokyo or Seoul or Beijing.

But on this side of the world, the healing process has been stunted and the new thespians of this hybrid of art and sport are still learning their lines – finding a way to hit their marks on the slippery stage of big time skating.

“I can’t honestly say that I believe the scandals are completely behind us,” says Shae-Lynn Bourne the world ice dance champion of 2003. “But I do believe great skating will speak for itself. It always does.”

It’s a hope that all fans of the sport share. But the trip back to the limelight has taken some time.

“This requires education about a whole new system,” stresses Albrecht. “Passionate fans still have no clue what the new system means.”

Understanding new points system a hurdle

The new system or code of points, if you will, is the way skating has developed into something that can be responsibly graded. It requires a certain number of jumps and tricks but it also rewards the skaters who get from element to element in a way designed to protect the sport’s aesthetic appeal.

In this regard, the new leading man appears to be 18-year-old Patrick Chan of Canada. All of a sudden skating is pinning many of its hopes for a Hollywood hit on him.

“He’s been able to get the best of both ends of the spectrum,” reckons Albrecht, who has become Chan’s representative. “Patrick has incorporated all of the old world fundamentals, including artistry, into the new system.”

So far it’s paying dividends and Chan’s journey to the red carpet of the figure skating world is creating a stir. The two-time Canadian champion is putting people in seats whenever he competes and there’s a new electricity surrounding his capacity for delivering standout performances.

“It reminds me of what happened with Kurt,” Kevin Albrecht says, with reference to four-time world champion Kurt Browning who he has represented for many years. “Patrick now has a huge Korean website - we can’t read it, but it gets a ton of traffic!”

Chan part of the renaissance

Indeed, Patrick Chan is the new poster boy for McDonald’s restaurants, the ubiquitous fast-food giant, and if there was ever a way to thrust himself in front of the audience, this is it. Albrecht had Chan speak to McDonald’s national marketing meeting recently and the boy wonder was able to deliver his message in not one but three different languages.

“He told them you have to have passion in whatever you do,” Albrecht recalls. “And he told them if you don’t have passion you have to get out. They gave him a standing ovation.”

A standing ovation is what Patrick Chan and the rest of the skaters will be after at the world championships in Los Angeles.

Let’s face facts - with the Vancouver Olympics less than a year away, they can’t afford to muff their lines and deliver a flat performance. The Staples Center is a massive building in the heart of a city where all that glitters is gold.

The bottom line is, figure skating needs a blockbuster this time out in Hollywood. A cast that features Patrick Chan as a headliner is about to face the music.

“He could really make a difference,” Kevin Albrecht offers.

It’s a lot of pressure to put on a fledgling superstar not yet 20 years of age. Then again, it’s the price one pays to act on the main stage in the discerning world of this fascinating sport.

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