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An Olympian ice storm


This is ice skating's magic moment.

Without warning or advance reservations, people are swarming into rinks everywhere with new skates and fantasies of jumping gracefully into the spotlight. The pros haven't seen anything like it - for four years.

That's the power of the Olympics.

"The whole thing sells," said Pat Muth, who has taught at Columbia Ice Rink since 1971 and has seen the quadrennial trend again and again. "The clothing sells, the lessons sell - [our] phones are ringing off the hook because they've been watching the television."

About 500 people have enrolled in group lessons at the Columbia rink, up at least 200 from last year, Muth said. A hundred extra people are showing up for public sessions at Mount Pleasant Ice Arena in Baltimore.

"We are packed," said Linda Monney, skating director at Piney Orchard Ice Rink in Odenton, in a spare moment between lessons.

All the ice sports benefit, including speed skating and hockey. Still, the jumps and spins are often what get the most attention.

"People see it on television and immediately know that their child can do that," said Patti Feeney, managing director of member programs and services for the Ice Skating Institute, an international organization based in Dallas. "It really seems in reach. ... As soon as they see that 3-year-old pirouetting around the living room, they're sure that's natural talent. There's an Olympic star born every hour."

Muth is seeing the signs. One little girl showed up this week for her first foray onto ice - wearing a skating skirt and tights.

"She was freezing," Muth said. "But that was all she talked about at home: being an Olympic skater."

Columbia resident Diana Jauch, 67, was inspired by the Olympics, too, but one that took place before 2002 women's champion Sarah Hughes was born. The 1984 Games, with stunning ice dancers Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, encouraged her to give skating a try.

She had to give up skating for a 10-year stretch because of her job, picked it up again six years ago - and then broke her hip. Undeterred, she was back in a year.

Jauch skates five to six days a week, practicing spins and four jumps. She loves "the artistry, grace, beauty and the feeling of flying."

Competitive figure skaters such as 13-year-old Ashley Brooks have thrown themselves into practice with renewed vigor (as long as the ice time didn't conflict with the Salt Lake City events, of course).

"During the Olympics, I could hardly tear her away from the TV - she loved it," said Ashley's mother, Laure Brooks, watching the skaters twist and turn on the Columbia ice. "I think everyone here has been energized."

Whether the newest figure skaters will stay is another question. It's up to the rinks to create a lasting interest, Feeney said. And offering gold-medal pipe dreams won't do it.

"At some point, they will accept the fact that they are not going to be Sarah Hughes," she said. "Reality sets in. But if the youngsters or adults have a wonderful time, then they will ice skate forever."

Muth has found that the benefits last for a year or two and then sink in the third year. Other rinks have noticed that the attention melts away much more quickly.

"Once the warm weather hits, everybody forgets about it - and we go from 300 people down to 50," said Scott Pahl, Mount Pleasant's manager.

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