Thousands of visitors are pouring into Greensboro for one of this country's most prestigious sporting events- the annual U-S Figure Skating Championships. It begins tomorrow and runs through January 30th at the Greensboro Coliseum. This is the first time North Carolina has ever hosted the competition.
For weeks now, young performers at skating clubs across the state have been perfecting a routine for the championship's opening ceremony that will be on national television. On this early morning at Greensboro's Summit Skating Club, about thirty girls of every age and stage glide in graceful unison across the ice.
Their choreographer, Lance Travis, detects a few uneven turns, so he stops the music to demonstrate a few quick drills:
"Remember what you just did and let's carbon copy that and do it again…"
Travis is a former national champion who also happens to be a Greensboro native. As a young competitor, he had to leave North Carolina to train in New York and California. Now his sport's most prestigious national competition is taking place in his hometown.
"It's incredible. It's something I never would have dreamed would come to Greensboro. I just never thought it would be possible."
Travis says it's been great to see figure skating grow in popularity in North Carolina over the last decade. And he says the event will boost the local economy too.
"It's certainly going to mean a possible 23 to 26 million dollar influx into the local economy, which should be nice. I mean, it's a huge event."
That's one of the reasons why local and state officials lobbied so hard to bring the national competition to Greensboro. Kim Strable is the president of the Greensboro Sports Commission, which helps bring sports competitions to the city.
"This is being tabbed as the largest spectator event in Greensboro since 1974 when they hosted the NCAA Final Four. We hope we'll see an excess of a hundred thousand total ticket sales."
But getting the event to come to North Carolina wasn't cheap. Communities bid to host it, and if they're chosen, they have to pay several million dollars up front to the U.S. Figure Skating governing body. Attorney Hill Carrow heads a sports management company that paid the bill.
"The bulk of that money has to come from ticket purchasers which is always a scary thing because you just never know given the weather or economic circumstances what's going to happen. The second highest level of revenues comes from sponsorships."
Carrow says the response from local and national companies has been very positive- about forty pitched in to support the championship. Now organizers say the big challenge is to make sure everything runs smoothly- from shuttle buses to performance schedules. Henry Fourrier heads the Greensboro Area Convention and Visitors Bureau:
"An event of this magnitude and significance on your event resume certainly helps you down the road to get other events, I think this'll open the door for a new market."
Fourrier says if figure skating officials like the venue- and have a good time- they'll be more likely to bring back their business. But that's not what the skaters of Greensboro's Summit Skating Club are thinking about- including seventeen-year-old Anna Berger:
"I know some of the people coming and it's really exciting."
Rachel Thompson is nine years old:
"It makes me work harder to be able to actually be up there someday if I could."
The Greensboro Coliseum is allowing free admission to watch the competitors' practice sessions on ice. Berger and Thompson say they're thrilled to have the opportunity to watch their idols in action.