It's high stakes skates

TODD SAELHOF -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:01 AM ET

Athletes from the four corners of the globe have spun and jumped their way to Calgary hoping to carve a niche for themselves in the city's rich figure skating history.

The 2006 ISU World Figure Skating Championships begin today at the Pengrowth Saddledome, bringing with it a $40-million windfall for the local economy and a new generation of competitors inspired by the last time the world came to Calgary for such a large event.

Skate Canada director William Thompson said the 1988 Winter Olympics were a spark for the current generation of skaters.

"Remember the Battle of the Brians?" said Thompson, recalling the Olympic gold-medal showdown in the men's singles event won by American Brian Boitano over Canadian Brian Orser.

"The world championships are inspiration enough, but there's a lot of history here because of that.

"Even if some of the skaters weren't born yet, they've probably seen footage of that battle."

Now, new wars will be waged for world titles among 200-plus skaters representing 47 countries.

Some participants have arrived from as far away as Australia and New Zealand and from such unlikely skating nations as Israel, Argentina, Philippines and South Africa.

"It's all come together in the last couple of days," said Thompson, whose organization has worked five years to see the worlds come to fruition.

"There's always obstacles because it's such a significant undertaking, but for the most part it's been a positive experience -- and now we're ready to start skating."

That begins today at 9:15 a.m. and continues through Sunday, with all events scheduled for the Saddledome ice.

Skate Canada expects a throng of fans for most every event, with all but a handful of the best seats already sold out.

"Calgary has a great skating and sporting history," Thompson said.

"It's one of the best cities because of its dedicated base of fans, a strong base of over 200 volunteers and a great venue."

Joe Fardell, president of Tourism Calgary, says the spinoff from the worlds for the city could top $40 million, based on Vancouver raking in more than $30 million from its hosting of the 2001 championships.

"What's just as important is the exposure the figure skating brings us," said Fardell, who anticipates about 2,500 visitors to the city, including coaches, officials and competitors.

"Overall, it'll be good for Calgary be-cause it's shown internationally -- we'll get all kinds of exposure in the U.S. and Europe, and you can't buy that type of advertising."


Videos

Photos