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Shatel: Style, grace and good seats in abundance

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Shatel: Style, grace and good seats in abundance

Lindsay Davis and Mark Ladwig perform in the pairs short program. Davis and Ladwig were fifth with 51.65 points. In first were Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir with 62.27.


OK, guys. It's the middle of winter. You're looking to secure a future kitchen pass. You're looking for mega-bonus points. You can't mow the yard or shovel snow that isn't there.

No worries. I may have something for you here.

Take your significant other, or the daughters in your life, to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships at the CenturyLink Center.

It's an Olympic sport and you'll see Olympic-caliber athletes on display. You'll see athleticism, mad skills, precision and imagination. Figure skating is sort of a cross between dancing and gymnastics, set to music.

You can think of it as “date night.”

It's the most distinct sporting event I've ever covered. And while there are some hockey lads in town who might dispute the “sports” part of the equation — that's an argument for forecheckers and figure skaters to take outside — there's no disputing the speed and skill involved.

And the other stuff, too.

I mean, is it sports if sequins are involved?

When I arrived at the CenturyLink Center on Thursday, the sounds of classical music bounced off the ceiling of the arena. A man and woman skated effortlessly to the music, as if they were floating above the ice.

They twirled in the air together. They jumped and landed in harmony. He held her above his head and spun. They did this for two minutes, and then ended with something called the Forward Inside Death Spiral.

Memo to skating organizers: You need to market the Death Spiral move. Nobody will know what it is, but it might attract some of the male audience who expect to see some sort of cage around the ice.

Not all of the music belongs at a dance recital. One couple skated to “Stray Cat Strut.” After that, I was waiting for some Adam Ant.

Out of force of habit, I kept waiting for someone to throw a fish on the ice. It would be kind of cool to see a couple do a routine with the Mavboni out there chasing them.

Figure skating fans don't throw fish, but they do toss stuffed animals onto the ice, wrapped in plastic, for the competitors to keep after they're finished. Fans have also been known to toss poems or notes to the skaters onto the ice.

Can you imagine if they did this at Creighton basketball games? The players would get all kinds of notes, such as “You're the best” and “Try playing some defense.”

After the competitors finish, they go to a little waiting area just off the ice, where they hear the judges' scores. They stand in front of a “Puffs” sponsor sign. I was trying to imagine Bo Pelini standing in front of a “Puffs” sign.

Up in the concourse, there was a merchandise stand, with all of the usual stuff, T-shirts, hats, etc. I found one item that was interesting: U.S. figure skating shot glasses.

Down the hallway, a woman had a big stand set up, almost a dress shop, full of colorful skating dresses for little girls. Some of them went for $200 a pop.

Now I know why they sell shot glasses. They're for the dads, before they go to the dress shop.

Meanwhile, there were about 2,000 enthusiastic fans there for the afternoon pairs competition, and more for the evening ladies championship. The crowds have been a little down this week, compared with the 102,619 total attendance for this event in San Jose, Calif., last year. But the “seniors,” or Olympic hopefuls, took to the ice on Thursday.

Harold Cliff, president of the Omaha Sports Commission, was less than thrilled but hopeful for a big weekend.

“I've been very impressed with the talent,” Cliff said. “The people of Omaha would be impressed, too, if they come out. These are world-class athletes, and seeing their speed, the height on their jumps, is something you appreciate. I think people would really appreciate their athleticism and skill level.”

Skating, like most individual Olympic sports, is tied directly to its stars. Superstars. Olympic stars. Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Katarina Witt, Michelle Kwan, Scott Hamilton, among others, were skaters whom viewers cleared their schedules to watch.

This event has Ashley Wagner, an Olympic hopeful who is trying to be a back-to-back winner of the U.S. championships. Meryl Davis and Charlie White won the silver medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

But this week lacks the established Olympic star power that the Swim Trials gave Omahans in 2008 and 2012. There's no Michael Phelps factor here. But the next great U.S. Olympic skater might be on that ice.

Whatever the turnout is this weekend, this was a good idea by Cliff and the sports commission. They're trying to expand our sports horizons. There's a speedskating event here in March, and Cliff said an international volleyball tournament (Olympic quality) has been secured for the CenturyLink Center next fall.

The commission is going hard after the 2016 Swim Trials, coaxed in large part by the business community, which enjoys the swim crowds. Omaha's swim reputation is solid gold, Cliff said, and won't be impacted by the turnout this week. Which could still rally, though Cliff says he needs about 10,000 fans through Sunday night to show well to the Winter Games folks.

A big part of that reputation is the hospitality side, and Omaha usually aces that test. The skaters, who are staying across the street at the Hilton, are raving about Omaha.

“It's great,” said Simon Shnapir, who shares the lead in the pairs short program with partner Marissa Castelli. “We're able to walk from our hotel rooms to the arena through that skywalk. We can get here in five minutes. Usually, you're on a bus for 30 or 40 minutes.”

“I could walk here in my pajamas,” Castelli said.

There are no pjs. There's no Mavboni, either. But if Omaha the hockey town likes high-level skating, there's plenty of that.

“The hockey fans will like it, because the skating is very similar to hockey,” Shnapir said. “We'll give them that, with a twist, pun intended. We'll show them something that will make them say, 'Whoa.'”

Have fun, guys. Remember, shot glass. Then dress shop.

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>> Video: Scott Hamilton discusses commentating for the skating championships:

>> Video: 1988 Olympic champion figure skater Brian Boitano spoke with food writer Sarah Baker Hansen about his TV show "What Would Brian Boitano Make?"

>> Video: 2002 Olympic gold medalist figure skater Sarah Hughes talks about her Olympic win and her childhood connection to the New York Rangers hockey team:

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