CALGARY -- Don't blame the Cowtown.
Calgary was saddled with this.
It's not Calgary's fault they're hosting the World Figure Skating Championships, which began here yesterday with more than 14,000 empty seats.
This event didn't have a snowball's hope in hell of being a success the day they decided to hold it on an Olympic year.
It had no chance when Skate Canada made a stunningly stupid decision a few years back to eliminate local organizing committees.
It had no chance when the Canadian talent pool dried up and Canada was kept off the podium for the first time in 22 years at Worlds two years ago.
It had no chance the day French judge Marie-Reine LeGougne conspired to fix the pairs and dance events at the Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Winter Games involving Canada's Jamie Sale & David Pelletier.
It had no chance when the predictable cancellations began coming after Torino, and they lost an opportunity to at least be able to market Olympic gold-medal winners.
NO GOLDEN SKATERS
Not one gold-medal winner is here. Nor is bronze medal-winner Irina Slutskaya.
Even if they were all here, it wouldn't have mattered much because Skate Canada doesn't get when it comes to these kinds of markets what the people who run the Brier, for example, know to be true.
You have to have a local organizing committee complete with all the tentacles running through the community to make these events work.
And even with that, the sport suffered such a blow with the Salt Lake scandal.
Despite Jeffrey Buttle's silver medal at Worlds last year and his Olympic bronze this year, they also don't have the headliners like Kurt Browning, Elvis Stojko, Sale & Pelletier, etc. to sell anymore.
It's criminal that Calgary, host of arguably the most successful Olympic Winter Games with a full Saddledome for every figure skating event, should end up looking like a second-rate welcome-the-world city.
With 5,500 seats sold, but with significantly fewer butts in them, we watched Emanuel Sandhu open the Worlds by falling on his rump and skating another half-assed performance in the men's qualifying.
Paid attendance of 5,800 was announced for the pairs short program and 5,700 for the second men's qualifying flight.
That was your first clue these Worlds won't come close to the take-the-event-to-where-its-never-been-before NHL-building sellouts that preceded them in Edmonton and Vancouver.
Hold this same event here in 2008 or 2009 leading into the Vancouver Olympics, they'd fill this place.
That's the real crime here.
That's why Canada should never bid for, nor accept, an Olympic-year hosting.
Remember, even with the building less than half full, the crowds they'll draw here will be bigger than most Worlds I've covered overseas.
The sad thing is that this is the second time Calgary has been saddled with an Olympic-year Worlds. The first time was 1972 after the show in Sapporo.
That was the first Worlds I covered. The seats were scaled at $5, $4 and $3 for that one in the 6,800-seat Calgary Corral, a venue that maybe should have been used for this one to at least give the appearance of being successful.
All-event ticket prices here this year were $950, $895, $595 and $395.
Single-event tickets range from $122 to $15. Hopes are that they'll sell enough of them to at least half fill the Saddledome for the night Caroline's Kurt Browning is inducted into the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame.
Karen Magnussen was Canada's only hope for a medal at the Worlds here in 1972.
If Trixi Schuba, the champion nobody loved who couldn't really skate, but was a whiz at the boring, tedious and colourless act of tracing the likes of figure eights on the ice, had been an Olympic-year no-show, Magnussen would have won a gold.
She ended up with silver. She won the world championship the following year.
That, of course, is the up side here.
With no Evgeni Plushenko, Jeffrey Buttle could win Canada's first gold since Elvis Stojko in Laussane in 1997.
And with some of the usual home-country performance-enhancing judging, there might be a few Canadians on the podium.
Maybe Calgary will get dialed up for this event, which is being covered by an out-of-town media contingent of 150, and is expected to be watched by a television audience of 150 million in 31 countries.
But if not, don't blame Calgary.