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The story behind the story of the 2011 US Figure Skating Championships

by Ogi Overman

The nine-day event that begins Sunday has been three years in the making, but it actually began in 1987.

 

Meryl Davis and Charlie White (photo courtesy of Paul/Michelle Harvath)

 

For its major national events, the US Figure Skating Association takes about three years from the time it solicits bids, winnows them down, makes the final selection and actually holds the event. The sport’s governing body made the official announcement that Greensboro had been chosen to host the 2011 AT&T US Figure Skating Championships on Feb. 25, 2009. But it is no stretch to say that the process of luring the event to the Gate City had its genesis fully 23 years ago.

 

It was 1987 when an enterprising sports promoter from Cary named Hill Carrow chose Greensboro as one of the primary sites, along with Raleigh, for the US Olympic Festival. The festival included 34 events, 4,000 participants, 10,000 volunteers and 464,000 spectators, and was given 20 hours of television coverage by ESPN. It was the most national exposure the city had gotten since the Greensboro Coliseum hosted the 1974 NCAA Final Four and, even counting the numerous ACC tournaments, a Bassmasters Classic, an annual PGA Tour event and two years of Carolina Hurricanes hockey, remains so today.

Until now. The Coliseum will again take center stage for nine days — this Saturday through Sunday, Jan. 30 — when the US championships makes its first foray into the Southeast. NBC will provide seven hours of live coverage Jan.

29 and 30, culminating in a prime-time telecast of the ladies free-skate finals 9–11 p.m. Jan. 29. On Feb. 5 it will also televise the Smucker’s Skating Spectacular featuring men’s Olympic Gold Medalist Evan Lysacek, which will be taped here Sunday, Jan. 30. Additionally, ticketholders are invited to remain for Lysacek’s performance in Rise, a documentary commemorating the 50 th anniversary of the 1961 plane crash that killed the US World Figure Skating Team. It will air Feb. 17.

But in addition to putting Greensboro on a national stage, the Olympic Festival forged a bond between Carrow, who had formed NC Amateur Sports and had produced the first NC State Games the previous year, and Tom Ward, who was in the process of founding the Greensboro Sports Commission.

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Jeremy Abbott (photo courtesy of Paul/Michelle Harvath)

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Hill Carrow is flanked by two of the youthful competitors in the event, Jesse Goldstone (left) and Jessica Tran, both from North Carolina. They were among the skaters in town last Saturday for an exhibition at the downtown Greensboro ice rink. (photo by Ogi Overman)

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Hana Chabinsky, an 11 year old from Raleigh, shows her form at the temporary rink. She placed 19th in the juvenile division at 2010 national junior championships at Salt Lake City. (photo by Ogi Overman)

“Tom and I spent countless hours together working on that event,” recalled Carrow last spring when he was in town as a guest of the very same commission. “No telling how many miles we put on his car riding around, scouting out locations, venues, hotels, routes for the marathon and so on. He was invaluable in securing sponsorships, introducing me to all the people I needed to know, making sure every contingency was covered. Some nights we’d work late and he’d put me up on his couch rather than me driving back to Raleigh.”

Although Ward resigned in 2001 and passed away a short time later, turning the reins over to Marc Bush, Carrow knew that the Sports Commission had flourished under Bush and Kim Strable, who succeeded Bush last year. Moreover, he maintained his Greensboro contacts and made new ones as he continued to put on large-scale events through his company, Sports & Properties, Inc. So when he began formulating a plan to bring a national figure skating event to North Carolina, he knew that there were three markets in the state that could support it: Charlotte, Raleigh and Greensboro. But Greensboro had an advantage, for several reasons.

“The other two had franchises in there during winter [Charlotte Bobcats and Carolina Hurricanes] and it would’ve been hard to schedule an event like this around them,” said Carrow last Friday. “Plus, not only is Greensboro bigger than either of those, it’s far more flexible, with the Special Events Center and surrounding facilities.”

In fact, it was the Special Events Center that proved crucial. Carrow had bid on the 2010 event that was awarded to Spokane, Wash.; Greensboro didn’t even make the short list. So the Coliseum developed a plan to do something that had never been done before: Put the rink, the practice facility and ancillary events under one roof.

“The real experiment was that they wanted to do everything on one site,” said coliseum Managing Director Matt Brown. “The advantage we had was that we had an adjoining multi-use facility right across the service drive.”

True, but none of those multiple uses had ever been a skating rink. Yet, once Brown got assurances from engineers and rink specialists that it could be done, it was added to the package.

“We will freeze a sheet of ice, 85 by 200 feet, to serve as a practice and warm-up rink in the main hall [where the men’s portion of the Pizza Hut Invitational basketball tournament is held],” explained Brown. “Then we’ll take it a step further and use the adjoining 20,000 square-foot Hall B to house Fan Fest, a cafeteria for the public and an interactive media stage. It will also have a 30-by-30 ft. demonstration rink for live telecasts and interviews.”

The facility also added a staircase so that the skaters could have easy access from the locker rooms to the seating area, and moved and modified the press area to accommodate the over 2,000 credentialed media, coaches, officials and participants.

“I think they looked at our track record of hosting the ACC Tournament and numerous other, large events and saw that we were a complex that could handle this elite event,” said Brown.

Before the selection committee made its decision, however, it sent a delegation from its Colorado Springs, Col. headquarters to the town and the coliseum for a first-hand inspection. And Carrow, Brown, Greensboro Area Convention & Visitors Bureau President Henri Fourrier and a large group of civic and sports leaders were there to greet them.

“We wanted them to see the broad base of community support we had in Greensboro, so we brought out all the movers and shakers,” smiled Carrow. “I’d been told that’s not typically how it’s done, but I felt we needed to show them that we not only had the facility but the people and the fanbase to make it happen. It went back to conversations I’d had with Tom [Ward] about presenting a ‘united front.’ I’m convinced had we not done that we’d have lost out.”

At the time, Greensboro would have surely been considered the underdog. The committee had narrowed down the list of eight cities submitting bids to two finalists: Kansas City, Mo. and Greensboro. Not only had Kansas City just built a new $300 million arena, the Sprint Center, but it was managed by AEG Worldwide, the Los Angeles-based firm that is one of the largest sports and entertainment providers on the planet.

“They can write the big checks that don’t bounce,” quipped Brown, “so we knew we had to be aggressive in making our case that we were the right venue and that we’d tweak it to fit their needs.”

Added Carrow, “The bids were quite opposite. They had a brand new facility with no franchise, plus they had a multi-use district that had been built around it of restaurants, bars and motels. So on paper they looked really good, which made it all the more important to show them a broad base of community support when they came to visit. We had to make a good first impression, and I guess we did.”

Even missing out on the 2010 event to Spokane may have been a blessing in disguise, according to Carrow.

“We are fortunate to follow them in one sense,” he said. “They set a new benchmark for attendance [158,000] and ticket sales [more than $2 million], and we were able to study the things they did that were success ful.

You’re always supposed to set the bar high and go for it. I’m not sure we’ll achieve those numbers, because they blew everybody off the map — and, remember, it was an Olympic year — but if we’re even close we’ll have had a very successful event.”

A bit of serendipity also played a role in giving both Carrow and US Figure Skating confidence in Greensboro’s ability to handle the event. Moses Cone Health System had sent a small group of doctors and physical therapists to Spokane to help them understand the level of onsite medical support that would be needed. During the competition a skater missed her landing and fell hard on her chin. It so happened that it was two of the Moses Cone personnel — Dr. Karl Fields and Vince Carlson — who rushed onto the ice and attended to the skater’s wound.

“It was pretty graphic, with blood spewing on the ice,” said Brown. “But it was our local guys who fixed her up, and she wound up completing her routine.”

Echoed Carrow, “Moses Cone has made a concerted effort to have all the medical needs covered at both the rinks. They’ve really stepped up.”

Another group that has stepped up is the Greenaboro Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, which has been involved in the process from day one.

“The second thing they want to know, after the facility, is hotel-room availability,” said Carrow, “and Greensboro has got it covered on that end, as well. Henri [GACVB president Fourrier] has been a huge part of this process all along. They stay involved, too, by making sure that visitors know rooms are available and where they are.”

Fourrier acknowledged that this event is expected to need 10,000 room nights, which projects into an economic impact of roughly $26 million, and guaranteed their availability.

“We keep an inventory when we have city-wide events like this, and send the tally to all the hotels,” he said, “and they let us know what they have available. We encourage people to call us [336.274.2282] and we can tell them exactly who’s got rooms, where they are and what the prices are. We give them their phone number and get them set up.”

As encouraged as he is with an event of this magnitude, Fourrier is equally disappointed with the Guilford County Board of Commissioners, who denied a request from Carrow at their Jan. 13 meeting to help cover costs for EMS services at the event, which were estimated at $26,000. Fourrier addressed the commissioners, who deadlocked 5-5 and thus denied the motion, and the next day expressed his dismay.

“I was grossly disappointed that the county chose not to participate in this activity,” he said. “It’s more than just the money. Oftentimes people solicit the CVB for sponsorship, not just for dollars but so they can have our name associated with the event. The state of North Carolina participated, the city of Greensboro participated, the Chamber of Commerce, the Greensboro Merchants Association, the Sports Commission and Sports Council. Everybody stepped up except our county commissioners.

“The sad thing is that it sends the wrong message. As we say we are a community that’s all about securing jobs, when people and businesses are looking for places to locate or relocate, they look at what kind of community they’re moving to, and are they going to have the support of everyone there. That’s what I was looking for from the county; it wasn’t necessarily the $26,000.”

Regardless of the commissioners’ short-sightedness, Carrow is confident that nothing will stand in the way of this spectacular figure skating event’s being a raving success.

“We have the 250 best skaters in the country coming here, we’re assured of pumping at least $22 million into the local economy, and Greensboro is going to get tons of international TV exposure,” he smiled. “With a week to go we are within striking distance of our goal of $2 million in ticket sales, and as excitement builds down the stretch, I feel like we’ll blow past the top. I am very encouraged by the way it’s all come together.”

For all-event, weekend, matinee and evening ticket packages, as well as single-session tickets, to the 2011 AT&T US Figure Skating Championships visit www.northcarolina2011.com.

2011 AT&T US Figure Skating Championships Schedule

Sunday, January 23 SESSION 1: 10 a.m.-2:10 p.m. Novice Compulsory Dance & Novice Ladies Short Program SESSION 2: 2:30 p.m.-5:50 p.m. Novice Men Short Program & Novice Pairs Short Program SESSION 3: 7:30 p.m.-9:20 p.m. Junior Men Short Program

Monday, January 24 SESSION 4: 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m.

Novice Free Dance & Novice Ladies Free Skate SESSION 5: 3:45 p.m.-7:40 p.m. Novice Men Free Skate & Novice Pairs Free Skate SESSION 6: 8:45 p.m.-10:15 p.m. Junior Ladies Short Program

Tuesday, January 25 SESSION 7: 11 a.m.-12:55 p.m. Junior Short Dance SESSION 8: 8:30 p.m.-10:50 p.m. Junior Men Free Skate

Wednesday, January 26 SESSION 9: 11 a.m. – 3:35 p.m. Junior Pairs Short Program &Junior Free Dance SESSION 10: 8:30 p.m.-10:40 p.m. Junior Ladies Free Skate & Opening Ceremonies

Thursday, January 27 (VISIT NORTH CAROLINA DAY) SESSION 11: 3:30 p.m.-6:10 p.m. Championship Pairs Short Program SESSION 12: 7:15 p.m. – 11:05 p.m. (Moses Cone Session) Championship Ladies Short Program

Friday, January 28 (TOURNAMENT TOWN DAY) SESSION 13: 11 a.m.-1:25 p.m. Junior Pairs Free Skate SESSION 14: 3:00 p.m. – 5:40 p.m. (BCBS of NC Session) Championship Short Dance SESSION 15: 7:30 p.m.-11:15 p.m. (Graphic Visual Solutions Session ) Championship Men Short Program

Saturday, January 29 (LOWES FOODS DAY) SESSION 16: 10:45 a.m.-2 p.m. Championship Pairs Free Skate (1-3) & Free Dance (1-2) SESSION 17: 2:30 p.m.-5:50 p.m. Championship Pairs Free Skate (4-5) & Free Dance (3-4) SESSION 18: 6:45 p.m.-11 p.m. Championship Ladies Free Skate

Sunday, January 30 (VF DAY) SESSION 19: 1:30 p.m.-5:50 p.m. (Kipling Session) Championship Men Free Skate SESSION 20: 7 p.m.-10:15 p.m. (Lucy Session ) U.S. Championships Skating Spectacular

Visit www.northcarolina2011.com for more info.

 

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