FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. – As the ladies take the Olympic ice Wednesday in the final figure skating event in Sochi, Russia, they will be inspiring young skaters in Fairfield County and beyond.
It is the premier competition of the Winter Olympics -- sort of a Super Bowl for figure skating fans of all ages.
“The whole year of an Olympic season is exciting and raises the profile for figure skating,” said Chris Hoelck, president of the Laurel Ridge Skating Club in Danbury. “It's really fun to see all of our club members being inspired by what Olympic-caliber athletes are doing.”
For the coaches and skating club around Fairfield County, the added exposure of the sport is increasing membership and interest.
Michelle Borsellino, vice president of the Skating Club of Southern Connecticut in Darien, said she has seen an immediate rise in new members since the Olympics began. More skaters have also signed up for a basic skills competition that the club hosts in March, which gives new skaters a chance to start competing at the entry level.
Seeing the sport on television also helps older skaters to work harder, Borsellino said.
“Kids that are at higher levels are recognizing so many people that they’ve interacted with at some point,” she said. “We’re seeing kids that might not represent the United States but that are from other countries and have been coming here to train.”
One of those athletes is Brooklee Han, a Redding resident who is skating for Australia at the Sochi Olympics . Over the years, Han, an 18-year-old graduate of Joel Barlow High School, has skated locally at the Winter Garden Ice Arena in Ridgefield, the Danbury Ice Arena, and Twin Rinks in Stamford, among others.
Han's journey brings a reality to other young skaters, showing them that they, too, can accomplish great things and maybe even make it to the Olympics.
Jason Briggs, director of Figure Skating at Chelsea Piers Stamford, agreed.
“It actually helps the people who are involved in the sport already as well as bring new people in,” said Briggs. “You defiantly see the majority of the skaters get that competition bug.”
Briggs, a retired pairs skater, knows that first hand: He competed for Great Britain in the 1992 Olympics. He currently coaches a number of nationally ranked skaters in the United States.
“The reason I stayed in the sport and continue to try to pass on what I’d experienced is purely for this purpose: To see people have that drive and the people that stay with it, to see their growth and see their dreams,” Briggs said.