Roller figure skaters thrill loyal fans

A small but tight-knit community of fans, seemingly all on a first-name basis with each other, gathered for the final day of roller figure skating competition Sunday night at the Pan Am Games.

Pan Am sport unites small but tight-knit community

As the doors of the grandly named "Exhibition Centre" opened for the final of two nights in roller figure skating about an hour before show time on Sunday night, a stream of people worked their way to the temporary seats.

Actually, everything was temporary, as the spot was generally, for those who attend the famous Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in November, about where they run the performing athletic dogs presentation in Hall B of the CNE's convention centre.

While the skaters warmed up in the dark of a far corner, that stream kept growing until there was a full, excited house of 2,000 folks babbling inside. 

Canada's Kailah Macri, who came out of retirement for the Pan Am Games, was a tad taken aback while she rolled to centre rink for her long program.

"When I saw how full the crowd was, I was like, 'I don't have that many friends,'" she said, standing in the mix zone waiting to see where she would finish. "So obviously it's good for the sport."

Macri, who would put a hand down on both of her major jumps, a double Axel and then a triple Salchow combination, to finish fourth, has been fighting to give her sport some recognition for almost a dozen years. 

In South America, it's well attended and developed, and the results in the ladies' competition reflected where the strength lies. 

Soler shines

The sublime Giselle Soler, who is only 18 and in her first year of seniors, ran away with it for Argentina, topping both the short and long programs for 519.70 points. Talitha Haas, of Brazil, took silver at 498.30, and Chile's Marisol Villarroel (479.70) won bronze.

For Macri, it was a fourth (470.80), and the Whitby, Ont., native, heading for medical school in 2016, expressed satisfaction with a touch of wistfulness.

"It's definitely the best I've ever done in international competition like this, so I can't ask for more than that," she said.  "I could have skated better, but it all depends on what happens in the moment, so I'm happy with it."

Macri, who left the sport after a fifth at the 2011 Pan Ams in Guadalajara, Mexico, put in some hard years in a country where there aren't many coaches and the facilities are few. You could understand any feeling of isolation, but this night proved the followers are there.

Visiting with the crowd before the skating began, you found many on a first-name basis with each other. They were former and current roller skaters, folks who have kept the sport moving here, a new breed from the roller derby world, and ice skaters who like the crossover.

And they are full of information. 

Tara Lipinski, the former world and Olympic ice figure skating champion, began as a roller skater, for example.   

Loyal following

Much of the sellout crowd seemed to be on a first-name basis, and I'd swear one of the women was someone your correspondent asked for a Moonlight Skate (a chance at hand-holding) at the old Terrace rink in 1973. She thought so, too.

A lesson of the lesser-known sports in these early days of the Games is that each has a loyal fan base happy to come out and buy tickets while many for larger events haven't been sold. 

Organizers of future events might do well to remember that, though to be fair to this group it came as a surprise to many media as well. 

This has been quite the few months for Macri, who has had more media attention that her entire career, a combination of the Games being at home and she being a contender in a fascinating endeavour.

The National Post did a nice profile back in April. David Common, of the CBC, came out to film a fun spot with her in Mississauga. And the Wall Street Journal, of all places, had a feature a few days back.

Based on the number of young people who have asked her about roller skating and how to get involved in it this week, there could be another like her coming along in a few years.

If medical school works out, Dr. Kailah Macri may be able to attend some future awards banquet across Canada as the guest of honour and tell them about the night a full house watched a roller event in Toronto, starting a new trend. 

On the men's side Sunday, Marcel Sturmer, of Brazil won the gold with a score of 536.00. He took both short and long programs.

John Burchfield, of the United States, took silver with 505 points, moving up from third to second after short, and Diego Duque, of Colombia, won bronze, with 496.70 points. 


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