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Saturday, May 5, 2012 - Page updated at 07:00 p.m.

Kent's ShoWare Center will host 2012 Skate America event

By Terry Wood
Special to The Seattle Times

KENT — Skate America, the first stop of a six-stage international competition known as the Grand Prix of Figure Skating, is coming to the ShoWare Center Oct. 19-21.

Overseen by the International Skating Union, the annual competition involves elite skaters — men, women, pairs and ice dancers — chosen by national skating federations.

A field of 52 from an estimated 15 countries will be announced May 21. NBC will air a two-hour roundup of the competition.

Indicative of the event's importance to the three-year-old ShoWare Center, reported to have lost $1 million in its initial years of operation, a slew of elected officials attended the midmorning announcement, including King County executive Dow Constantine and Kent mayor Suzette Cooke.

Gov. Chris Gregoire was scheduled to attend but did not. Former Olympian Ben Agosto (2006 silver medalist in ice dancing with partner Tanith Belbin) was introduced as the event's honorary chairman.

In 31 years of Skate America competition, the event's highest attendances have been achieved in the Pacific Northwest. Everett's Comcast Arena (2008), Spokane (2002) and Portland (2010) all drew more than 23,000 cumulative spectators.

ShoWare will offer a capacity of 3,940 for five ticketed sessions.

"This arena and this community are ready," Cooke said.

Agosto, a Chicago native living in Lacey, won five Skate America ice dancing titles with Belbin (2003-05, 2007 and 2009). Retired from competition (he now coaches and handles choreography assignments), Agosto said the Grand Prix follows only the Olympics and World Championships in terms of skating prestige.

"It's kind of a Nation's Cup of skating," Agosto, 30, said. "It's a way for skaters to get more experience for the World Championships which follow."

Subsequent stops in the weekly series are slated for Canada, China, France, Russia and Japan. Top finishers qualify for the Grand Prix final in December in Sochi, Russia, site of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

"You'll see a lot of the top skaters here, especially U.S. skaters," Agosto said. "U.S. Figure Skating really tries to bring all their top skaters to this event."


• Two factors boosted the ShoWare Center's candidacy for hosting Skate America: favorable impressions conveyed by an ice show operation (Disson Skating) that presented "Pandora: Love on Ice" (with Kenny G and Gladys Knight) at ShoWare in January and its proximity to a hotel (in Sea-Tac) operated by Hilton, the event sponsor.

• Agosto said he thinks it will be a good space for skaters. "It's a perfectly sized venue for figure skating," he said. "Even looking up to the back row here I can see the eyes of people and they can see mine. That results in a tremendous transfer of energy to the skater. After that skating show here, that put this building on the radar of the skating community."

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