“Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” - Mark Twain
by Sarah Wyatt
- For The Capitol Hill Times -
The world’s top figure skaters will bask in the Seattle Freeze this weekend, bringing their vibrant costumes, athletic prowess and artistry with them. They will also bring tourism dollars to local vendors and put the national spotlight on Puget Sound for the weekend, giving the region a possible image boost.
The 2012 Skate America competition will be held Oct. 19 through 21 at Kent’s ShoWare Center arena, home ice for the Seattle Thunderbirds hockey team. The annual event, previously held in Everett four years ago, will be televised nationally and is likely to bring thousands of skating fans, event organizers and media to Washington.
“ShoWare is the perfect size for this event,” explained Ben Agosto, a two-time Olympic ice dancer who moved to Capitol Hill from Detroit last year. “Every seat is a good one.”
Agosto, who retired from competition in 2010, coaches several rising stars in the Seattle Skating Club. As honorary chairman for the competition, he recently threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Seattle Mariners took on the Baltimore Orioles.
“Throwing out first pitch at a Mariners game was a longtime dream of mine,” Agosto explained. “We’ll be having other events to bring attention to the event. We will hopefully be doing a seminar for young local skaters.”
Skate America is the first competition in a six-stage international series known as the Grand Prix of Figure Skating. Organized by the International Skating Union, the annual event features elite international skaters in the mens, ladies, pairs and ice dance disciplines.
“What will be exciting about Skate America is that we will have national champions competing,” Agosto said. “This is the year before the Olympics, so all the skaters are looking at this season as a building block. Lots of great Japanese skaters will be there so we will have a peek of what we can expect at the 2014 Olympics. Everyone is going to be working really hard and there will be a lot of intense competition.”
Local skate clubs are volunteering and performing at the event between competitions. Seattle resident Pomai Miyata is a key volunteer, leading the airport greeting and helping with announcing during the practice ice sessions. Acting as a flag bearer during the awards ceremonies will be her 16-year-old son, Ikaika, a Novice skater who has won a number of titles. He is especially eager to see skaters execute jumps that rotate in the air four times, known in skating circles as “quads.”
“At a live competition like this, you get the wow-factor,” Ikaika Miyata said. “When someone just goes out there and does a quad-toe and quad-salchow, it’s so high and they rotate so fast, it’s awesome. It’s thrilling watching something that hardly anyone in the world can do, and thinking about how it will feel when I start doing them.”
Pomai Miyata, who also works as a trainer for skaters, believes that hosting high-level competitions in the area will encourage her son and other local athletes. The extended Miyata family, who opened the Madison Plaza Pharmacy in 1965 and attend Seattle Buddhist Church, have supported her son’s rigorous training program.
“I see how hard these kids work and how many sacrifices these kids and their families make,” Pomai Miyata said. “At times, it’s hard for them to keep motivated, but seeing their heroes in person, and in an international competition where they are striving to be the best, makes it real for them, feeds their spirits so that when things are not going so well, they can look back on the experience and be inspired.”
Current ladies’ national champion Ashley Wagner will compete at the event. Wagner, a self-described “Army brat”, considers Washington her “home base” but currently trains in California. She enjoys skating in the Northwest, having appeared at the national championships when they were held in Spokane in 2007 and 2010.
“I always love coming home to the Pacific Northwest because the events are well organized and there are a lot of great fans,” Wagner said. “I think that coming to Seattle is going to be great because my family and friends get to be there.”
Wagner will be unveiling two new skating programs at the competition. A technical short program will be performed to music from one of her favorite films, “The Red Violin.” An artistic long program will be skated to “Samson and Delilah.”
“This year I wanted an opportunity to show a wide range of skills,” Wagner said. “’Red Violin’ has a unique story, and I’m going to portray the emotion of it. My ‘Samson and Delilah’ program will be an opportunity to play with my skating.”
Agosto encourages local skating fans who have never seen a live competition to attend.
“Watching skating on television is different from watching it live,” Agosto explained. “You can see the skaters’ artistry on television, but in person you can see the speed of the skaters, how quickly they cover the ice.”
Nevertheless, Skate America is not the only skating event to visit Seattle in the near future. Professional skaters will perform to songs crooned live by Barry Manilow in a show fancifully titled “Unforgettable Moments of Love on Ice” on Jan. 11. NBC will air the show to a national audience later in the month. Agosto, who formerly competed as an ice dancer with Tanith Belbin, will make his debut as a solo skater at the event.
“Performing as a single will be a really big change for me,” Agosto said. “I will be reaching out for a hand and nobody will be there!”
Sarah Wyatt is a freelance sports and entertainment writer.