Ice Network

Boston strengthens claim as mecca for U.S. skating

TD Garden saw two sellout crowds, packed houses throughout event
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Fans flocked to Boston's TD Garden for the 2016 World Championships, giving the United States some of the largest crowds it has seen at a figure skating event in over a decade. -Getty Images

BOSTON - Five takeaways from a terrific 2016 World Figure Skating Championships that had something for everyone -- gold medalists from four different countries and medalists from seven different countries.

- Boston has become to figure skating what Eugene, Oregon, is to track and field: a U.S. mecca for a sport that lately has struggled to attract adherents elsewhere.

There were two sellouts (Saturday's pairs and ladies free skates), one near sellout and four crowds of 10,000 or more in the eight sessions at TD Garden, for which the arena capacity in a figure skating configuration was given as approximately 15,000. The smallest attendance was a more-than-respectable 8,425 for the short dance Wednesday.

The previous major figure skating event at TD Garden, the 2014 U.S. Championships, also were a rousing success. The ladies free skate at that event drew 13,980, the largest single-session crowd at the U.S. championships since the 18,035 in Los Angeles for the ladies free in 2002.

Attendance at worlds got a boost from foreign fans, notably the tour groups of passionate, highly sportsmanlike Japanese who bought eight percent of the tickets, according to the Boston Globe.

Even without them, though, the crowds were encouraging. It had been a long time since any figure skating event in the United States did as well as this one, more significant given that no current U.S. skaters came in as title contenders.

Why is Boston so welcoming to figure skating? The city is a U.S. cradle of the sport, and the venerable Skating Club of Boston, formed in 1912, not only has been linked to many of skating's greatest but also has many local movers and shakers in its ranks. These folks have the clout to get things done.

The TD Garden also is in a good location in a city that long has been one of this country's top tourist attractions.

Dozens of restaurants in the city's Italian neighborhood, the North End, are within an easy walk to the arena, making for excellent dining (and touring) opportunities before and after competition sessions. All of central Boston is relatively small and connected by an extensive (if antiquated) public transportation system.

It's a place fervid about its sports that has a century-old attachment to this one.

So it's really no surprise the city that preens as 'The Hub' (as in hub of the universe) is the hub of the figure skating universe in the United States. Its 2016 worlds event organizers did that notion proud.

- When David Baden walked into the room where the ladies medalists were about to do their press conference, one of my colleagues said, "Here comes the biggest winner at worlds."

Baden, an agent with International Management Group, represents five 2016 gold medalists and a silver medalist from four different countries: men's champion Javier Fernández of Spain; pairs champions Meaghan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada; and dance title winners Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France. He also represents ladies silver medalist Ashley Wagner of Team USA.

Not only that, but all six are personable, outgoing athletes fluent in English (if it is not their native tongue.)

- It also was a winning worlds for Brian Orser and the rest of the coaches at the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club.

Two men for whom Orser is the primary coach, Fernández and Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan, took 1-2 in men's for the second straight year at this event.

Gabrielle Daleman of Canada, in her first season with Team Orser (her primary coach is Lee Barkell), left thrilled by the two career-best scores that earned her ninth in ladies -- a marked improvement over her 21st-place finish last year.

Will-o'-the-wisp Kazakhstani Elizabet Tursynbaeva, 16 years old and 66 pounds, was a respectable 12th in her worlds debut to end a long season at the senior and junior levels in which she did two world meets (world championships, world junior championships) on two continents in three weeks.

Second-year Canadian pairs team Lubov Iliushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch were seventh after a solid free skate.

It wasn't all roses, though. Former world junior champion Nam Nguyen of Canada (fifth last year), who probably should have left bad enough alone after a trying season rather than accept a spot at worlds, was 27th in the short program, failing to make the final.

Two of the club's Spanish skaters, Sonia Lafuente and Javier Raya, also missed the the free skates. Lafuente, going backward over the last three seasons, was next-to-last of 38 in the short program. Raya missed the final by one place.

- Gracie Gold 's feeling that she needed to apologize to her country and the fans after letting a medal slip away with two bad free skate mistakes recalled another such moment.

When Midori Ito returned to Japan after winning only (?) a silver medal at the 1992 Olympic Winter Games, she also apologized to the country.

The fourth-place Gold's analysis of her latest failure to turn her unquestioned physical talent into a medal at nine major or "mid-major" events (Olympics, worlds, Four Continents, Grand Prix Final, at which she has finished fourth to sixth) was both dispassionate and disconcerting.

At 20, as she talked about the future, the two-time U.S. champion sounded utterly flummoxed -- the word she had used to describe a brain cramp mistake at this year's U.S. championships.

"It was a really unfortunate and sad experience," Gold said. "I feel really ashamed of how I skated, and I want to apologize to my country and to the crowd here -- there's really no excuse for it.

"It just shows that I'm not up there with the rest of the world, but maybe in the future I can be a better skater. I still have hopes for the 2018 Olympics, but we'll have to step back and re-evaluate what's realistic for my future skating."

- Michelle Kwan will forever be the gold standard for skating in the United States -- for popularity as well as success (nine U.S. titles, five world titles, two Olympic medals).

When Wagner got a rousing ovation from the crowd earlier in the week, she thought it sounded like the spectator reaction Kwan always received. "And I'm no Michelle Kwan," Wagner said.

And when Kwan showed up Saturday night to do an icenetwork interview from a position where 99 percent of the fans could not see her, the crowd stood to applaud her image on the video board projection of the interview.

Kwan was at TD Garden as more than a skating celebrity. She works for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign and was with Clinton supporters in a suite.