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Figure skating insider helps Kent land 2012 Skate America

Officials reveal the Skate America banner Friday, May 4 at the ShoWare Center as confetti falls on Kent City Council members Dennis Higgins, far left, Jamie Perry and Elizabeth Albertson, King County Councilwoman Julia Patterson, Kent City Councilman Bill Boyce, State Reps. Pat Sullivan and Mark Hargrove, State Sens. Joe Fain and Karen Keiser and State Rep. Tina Orwall. - STEVE HUNTER, Kent Reporter
Officials reveal the Skate America banner Friday, May 4 at the ShoWare Center as confetti falls on Kent City Council members Dennis Higgins, far left, Jamie Perry and Elizabeth Albertson, King County Councilwoman Julia Patterson, Kent City Councilman Bill Boyce, State Reps. Pat Sullivan and Mark Hargrove, State Sens. Joe Fain and Karen Keiser and State Rep. Tina Orwall.
— image credit: STEVE HUNTER, Kent Reporter

Kent's ShoWare Center primarily landed the Skate America international figure skating competition because of a U.S. Figure Skating insider who produced a skating event in January at the arena.

Steve Disson, president of Virginia-based Disson Skating, produced “Pandora Unforgettable Moments of Love on Ice” show Jan. 26 at the city-owned arena that opened in 2009. The event, shown on NBC TV, featured professional skaters performing to love-inspired music.

When U.S. Figure Skating began to search for a venue for the Oct. 19-21 Skate America, an annual event with 52 world-class figure skaters in men's, ladies, pairs and ice dancing that started in 1979, it asked for the opinion of Disson. Disson Skating signed a promotional agreement last fall with the federation.

"Steve had such a successful event here (with Pandora) and a very memorable experience in this building so that event paid dividends," said Tim Higgins, ShoWare Center general manager. "Success breeds success is how it all came about."

Disson recommended the ShoWare Center to Bob Dunlop, U.S. Figure Skating senior director for events. A short time later, Higgins received a phone call from Dunlop.

"Bob called up to see if we had dates available," Higgins said. "We said we'd love to have you here, let's make this work."

Laura Lee, president of Snohomish County-based Production Sports and spokeswoman for Skate America, said Kent had several selling points to become the host city.

"The Disson group spoke highly of the building," Lee said. "It needed to be the right size, a good community and to have close access to a host hotel that is a Hilton property because it is the Hilton Honors Skate America."

SeaTac's The DoubleTree by Hilton Seattle Airport will serve as the host venue for Skate America. ShoWare Center will have a seating capacity of 3,940 for the event as many of the 6,000 seats will be taken up for production purposes. NBC will televise coverage Oct. 20.

Lee said the success of Skate America in 2008 at the Comcast Arena at Everett also aided U.S. Figure Skating's selection of Kent.

"They've been here before," Lee said. "I co-hosted the 2008 Skate America so we know how to energize the crowd."

The decision to pick the ShoWare Center thrilled Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke.

"This is a wonderful announcement not only for Kent but our whole South King County area," Cooke said. "Not only will it be thrilling to see international figure skating champions here in ShoWare Center but I'm delighted that the athletes and visitors to this city will have the opportunity to experience all Kent has to offer.

"This arena and this community are ready. We look forward to everyone attending this event to experience the best hospitality, restaurants, shopping and entertainment in the Puget Sound region."

King County Executive Dow Constantine agreed the event is a boost to the entire area.

"This is tremendously exciting news for the two million people of King County," Constantine said. "We could not be more thrilled to host our country's premier amateur skating event. We look forward to this opportunity to see top figure skating competitors from across the world, truly the best of the best."

Ben Agosto, a 2006 Olympic silver medalist in ice dancing with partner Tanith Belbin, will serve as the event's honorary chairman. Agosto, who was raised in Illinois and now lives in Lacey, said fans can expect a top-notch competition.

"It's kind of an exclusive group of skaters," Agosto said. "The winners of this event in the past have gone on and won world championships, Olympic championships and so you really will see some of the top skaters, especially U.S. skaters. Because it's Skate America, U.S. Figure Skating tries to bring all of their top skaters to this event."

U.S. Figure Skating will release May 21 the list of competitors who are invited by their respective skating federations. All of the U.S. national champions from last year are expected to compete, Agosto said.

"It's a big deal to win," Agosto said. "It's very prestigious and it's a good paycheck at the end of the day. There's a lot of motivation to do well."

Skate America is part of the International Skating Union's Grand Prix Series, now in its 18th season, that consists of six international events.

Other stops on the 2012 Grand Prix Series include Skate Canada (Windsor, Ontario), Cup of China (Shanghai), Trophée Eric Bompard (Paris), Rostelecom Cup (Moscow) and NHK Trophy (Sendai, Japan).

Skaters earn points throughout the Series to qualify for the Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final each December. The 2012 Grand Prix Final will be Dec. 6-9 in Sochi, Russia, home of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

Skaters are eligible to compete in two of the six events to earn points to advance to the Grand Prix Final. Skaters will compete for more than $1.35 million in prize money throughout the series.

For more information, go to www.2012skateamerica.com.

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