London to host skate worlds

JENNIFER O'BRIEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:42 AM ET

LONDON, Ont. -- Now, that's what they had in mind.

Dozens of media satellite trucks, 500 news outlets, hundreds of athletes from dozens of countries, their trainers, families and fans galore.

They'll all descend on London for its biggest sporting event ever -- the 2013 International Skating Union World Figure Skating Championships.

That's just the kind of mega-event city officials were talking about back in 2002, when -- still high on the success of the 2001 Canada Summer Games -- they decided to go hard after big sports events, hiring a sport tourism manager and deciding to make London a sports tourism destination.

And, eight years later, the international spotlight is about to be trained on the city.

"This is, by far, the biggest, most prominent sporting event we've ever landed," said Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco-Best. "The excitement of skating in this area because we have the world (ice dance) champions (Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir) heightens the interest in an event like this, but now we are going to have millions of people around the world, seeing London, Ontario.

"You can't buy that kind of advertising for the community," she said.

Media coverage of the championships will likely include feature reports on the area, DeCicco-Best noted.

"We knew there was great opportunity. You get people to come to your city, stay in your hotels, eat at your restaurants."

The March 10-17 championships will be held at the 9,090-seat John Labatt Centre, the smallest of four venues that were in the running for the event.

After being awarded the event by the International Skating Union, Skate Canada chose London out of four cities. The others were Winnipeg, Ottawa and Quebec -- three cities, all with at least 3,000 more stadium seats than the JLC.

"The community in London is really engaged, and the events always sell out there," said William Thompson, head of Skate Canada. "I'd rather know we have a full rink with enthusiastic fans, so we can work on making the event great, rather than selling tickets."

He said London's "proven track record" of holding other events -- the 2005 and 2010 Canadian Skating Championships, and the 2007 International Synchronized Skating championships -- worked in its favour, as did a promise the province will help financially.

Though he was "happy to be able to put it in their home town," Thompson said Virtue and Moir had nothing to do with choosing London.

"This is pretty impressive for a city of 350,000," said Gary Curgin of CSTT Sports Management International London.

Curgin, who also sits on Tourism London's board, said London was one of the first cities in Canada to get a designated "sports tourism" department, headed then by Bob Graham.

"The whole purpose was to get London on the map as far as hosting major sporting events," he said, recalling an early initiative to secure Basketball Ontario in London. "And now, London is on the map when it comes to bidding for events."

The impetus for making the city a sports destination were the 2001 Summer Games, which brought 5,000 athletes to the city for two weeks. It also brought forth an army of volunteers and proved the city had a good model to operate such events.

The opening of the $45-million JLC a year later gave London a place to stage such events.

During the last eight years, London has secured bigger and better sporting events, giving it a reputation as one of Canada's best in the business, said Tourism manager John Winston.

"We started setting our sights on World Figure Skating championships in 2005 after we hosted a very successful Canadian (skating championships)," he said. "It was a full house. The enthusiasm and fan support in London -- they don't exhibit that (in) any other part of the country."

Winston said he will release the business case for the World Figure Skating Championship bid in coming months.


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