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Despite Improvements, Elite Figure Skating In Kansas City Still A Challenge

Rich Moffitt

Can Kansas Citians live the Olympic dream? Figure skater John Coughlin came close. The Kansas City native and his partner in ice pairs, Caydee Denney, just missed out on the selection for the Olympic team.

Competing at the elite level of figure skating while training in Kansas City has its challenges. But it’s improving. When the Independence Events Center opened four winters ago, not only the newly established Missouri Mavericks hockey team took off. So did the Heartland Figure Skating Club.

“Pretty much our entire skating club here, almost everyone, started once the rink opened and it was just amazing,” says Michelle Lauerman, the skating director for the community rink. “There are so many people that didn’t know that this was going to be their passion. They’re now involved with the sport.”

The community rink is next door to the ice where the Mavericks play their home games. Lauerman worked with Emily Juliana, 15, of Independence this week. Juliana took up figure skating four years ago. She brought up one of the many challenges that face talented young figure skaters: Getting local recognition.

“I don’t really think it is known as a hotbed for skating, but I think it’s a really a good opportunity for the kids here,” says Juliana.

All of the skaters on the ice with Lauerman and two other coaches were females, which is fine for singles. But what if a skater were interested in pairs? Lauerman says coaching is available, but therein lies another challenge.

“A lot of it has to do with just finding boys, too,” says Lauerman. “There’s not too many of them to pair the girls up with. I think a lot of the girls would love to do it.”

Marina Eltsova, who represented Russia in pairs in the 1998 Olympics, teaches in Kansas City at the Line Creek Community Center and at the KC Ice Center in Shawnee. She would love to coach pairs, but agrees with Lauerman.

“We have defiencency in boys here in Kansas City,” laughs Eltsova. “Not very many boys are skating.”

Eltsova knows the mainstream sports grab more interest.

“Boys here are more interested in hockey when it comes to skates. They seem to think it’s hockey, not figure skating,” says Eltsova. “Maybe it’s too girly for them? I don’t know."

When John Coughlin trained in Kansas City, he worked with a couple of pairs partners locally, then moved on to train in Delaware and Colorado Springs, Colo. Other training centers around the country enter the picture because other services are offered — like help from a ballet coach, a nutritionist and a sports psychologist.

Debbie Cole, a coach in Kansas City and St. Joseph, believes this area produces skaters who have a chance to live their dreams, but keeping the skaters focused is another matter.

“It’s a little tougher just because there’s a lot more outside forces,” says Cole. “Colorado Springs kind of lives in a bubble of that they eat, live, breathe skating all day long. Our kids have got the Kansas City Chiefs — football. We’ve got basketball, baseball and all the other different sports.”

Over the past two weeks, the televised coverage of the Olympics has dominated the ratings, and Michelle Lauerman says she hears about it the next day.

“It’s such an exciting event to watch. I loved every minute of it,” says Lauerman. “We started new ‘Learn to Skate’ classes last night and the kids were asking me, ‘Did you watch the ice dancing last night?’ They loved it.”

Maybe inspiring enough to seek a dream four years from now.

Sports have an economic and social impact on our community and, as a sports reporter, I go beyond the scores and statistics. I also bring the human element to the sports figures who have a hand in shaping the future of not only their respective teams but our town. Reach me at gregechlin@aol.com.
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