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Columbus welcomes U.S. Figure Skating Championships for the first time

Ilia Malinin performs during the men's free skate at the U.S. figure skating championships.
Tony Avelar
Ilia Malinin performs during the men's free skate at the U.S. figure skating championships in San Jose, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 29, 2023. The 19-year-old American wunderkind is the first skater ever to land the quadruple axel in competition.

For the first time, Columbus is hosting the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. The competition runs through Sunday at Nationwide Arena.

More than 180 of the best figure skaters in the country are competing for a chance to represent the U.S. in various international competitions, including the Olympics.

WOSU's Matthew Rand spoke about the event with Jesse Ghiorzi, director of marketing for the Greater Columbus Sports Commission.


Matthew Rand: This competition is a first for the city of Columbus. What does this mean to have these championships hosted here?

Jesse Ghiorzi: The U.S. Figure Skating Championships is an event where people are competing for a spot on Team USA and various international competitions. And although we're not in an Olympic year, I would make a good bet that a lot of the folks that you'll be seeing here in Columbus this weekend will be among the people that are selected on Team USA in 2026 when that time comes.

But it's really a special event for us, especially in January, when Columbus tends to get a little quieter. It’s nice to have something – and this is really a weeklong event.

We've already had plenty of junior competitions going and the first senior competitions starting today and going through the weekend.

If you're new to figure skating, the junior level is obviously the junior folks that are hoping to be on the senior level. Senior or championship level are the adults and the young stars that are on the rise and competing for those top championships that will be on Team USA. And that's going on all weekend in every discipline: men's, women's, pairs and ice dance.

Matthew Rand: I think it's fair to say that figure skating does get the most attention right during the Olympics every four years, but this is going on all the time. Can you talk about, you know, how these athletes train, how they compete and what the road to the Olympics looks like?

Jesse Ghiorzi: We’ve got a “Figure Skating 101” at figureskatingcolumbus.com. Each season typically starts in September-October for these skaters. So, their off season is during the summer, they're getting ready to train. And there's some smaller events in October-November leading up to the national championships.

And then coming out of here, there's plenty of international competitions that U.S. skaters are going to be competing in. The Four Continents Championships are coming up right after this. The World Championships are a little bit later. The U.S. is hosting the World Championships in 2025.

And then obviously then you've got in an Olympic year, the national championships, not just the U.S. national championships, but most countries’ national championships are going to be right before the Olympic cycle to help select team USA. So that'll be the case for this event in 2026, wherever that might be.

Matthew Rand: What's been the response from fans in Columbus and coming to Columbus to see this?

Jesse Ghiorzi: Yeah, that's the biggest thing. The Sports Commission’s goal is helping to bring sports events to Columbus. We do it to raise the image and profile and brand of Columbus on a national or international level. But people have responded great.

We've had some skaters in town. Jason Brown and Brian Boitano were in town and we kicked ticket sales off in August. They were loving the city. People were like stopping them on the street asking for pictures. So, although it's a new event for Columbus, it's been embraced by local people. We've embraced figure skating and figure skating, in turn, has embraced Columbus.

So, we're going to see some really big crowds, I think, and hopefully some full lower bowls in the arena throughout this weekend. All told, across all the sessions, we're pushing over 50,000 tickets. So, I think there’ll be a quite a bit of buzz in the Arena District and the arena on the ice this weekend.

Matthew Rand is the Morning Edition host for 89.7 NPR News. Rand served as an interim producer during the pandemic for WOSU’s All Sides daily talk show.