When the word first came out that Colorado Springs would host the 2012 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, the main concern was that the World Arena would be an empty venue.
Yes, this city has a lot of skating history, but when Four Continents came here in 2006 and 2007, as one skating insider recalled recently, "Nobody went to see it."
Aside from that, there were concerns that the field of skaters would be lacking, and that we wouldn't know the list until the last minute.
Over the past week, though, those apprehensions vanished. Now the roster for next weekend's event looks almost as strong as the World Championships seven weeks later in Nice, France.
For starters, the entire American world team for Nice will be here with just one exception (U.S. ladies runner-up Alissa Czisny of Detroit). That means Four Continents will have all the new U.S. champions, fresh off their victories last week in San Jose, Calif. The group includes longtime former Broadmoor Skating Club member Jeremy Abbott in men, Ashley Wagner in ladies, Meryl Davis and Charlie White (also the reigning world champs) in dance and Caydee Denney and John Coughlin in pairs.
Fine, aficionados might say, unless they don't have good competition. Well, they do. Let's take it by division, with schedules for each starting next Thursday, Feb. 9. Tickets range from $9 to $25 per session, with all-event packages starting at $100 (2012fourcontinents.com):
• Ice dance: Davis and White will renew their friendly rivalry against Canada's Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the 2010 Olympic gold medalists. Virtue and Moir had been barely beating Davis and White until the Americans broke through at the 2011 Worlds. This will be their first meeting since then. (Short dance, Saturday, 3:30 p.m.; free dance, Sunday, 2:45 p.m.)
• Pairs: Denney and Coughlin will face a rematch against Mary Beth Marley and ex-Broadmoor skater Rockne Brubaker, after their close battle at Nationals. But they'll also have to contend with China's Wenjing Sui and Cong Han, who have won two World Junior titles, as well as Canadian champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, who last year were second at Four Continents and seventh at Worlds. (Short program, Saturday, 1 p.m.; free skate, Sunday, noon.)
• Ladies: Wagner, who looked strong at Nationals, will learn how she stands against some top international opponents, including Japanese champion Mao Asada and Canada's Cynthia Phaneuf. Asada took the 2010 Olympic bronze at Vancouver, won the world title a month later, and was second at Four Continents last year. (Short program, Friday, 1 p.m.; free skate, Saturday, 7 p.m.)
• Men: Abbott and U.S. runner-up Adam Rippon face the most prominent Colorado Springs-trained skater, 2011 world champion Patrick Chan of Canada. This will be Chan's first opportunity to skate competitively in his adopted hometown, after having trained here with coach Christy Krall for more than two years. But all of them could be upstaged by Japan's charismatic Daisuke Takahashi, the Olympic bronze medalist and defending Four Continents champion. (Short program, Thursday, 6:45 p.m.; free skate, Friday, 7 p.m.)
After all that, there's a concluding exhibition "spectacular" at 7 p.m., Sunday.
More and coming, but that should be enough to make the argument. In fact, I'm trying to remember when we've had such a strong international skating competition in Colorado Springs. We could talk about Skate America, which had a three-year run at the World Arena from 1999 through 2001, highlighted by Michelle Kwan. But you might have to go all the way back to 1975, the last time Colorado Springs and the old Broadmoor World Arena hosted the World Championships.
That year, the headliners included Dutch champion Dianne de Leeuw pushed hard by American teen Dorothy Hamill (who proceeded to win gold at the 1976 Olympics). But the biggest drama was in ice dance, with Broadmoor-based U.S. champions Colleen O'Connor and Jim Millns finishing a close second to Soviets Irina Moiseeva and Andrei Minenkov.
This won't be Worlds. But in today's era, it's as close as Colorado Springs can get.
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