Around me, fans are wrapped in the Canadian flag, red and white scarves and parkas. Virtue-Moir supporters sport yellow t-shirts with the word "BELIEVE" emblazoned on the back in big, bold, black letters. There are many U.S. flags as well, the two ladies behind me from Georgia and South Carolina.
This is London's crowning achievement, boasting sufficient hospitality infrastructure to be selected to host the International Skating Union's 2013 World Championships. Budweiser Gardens is packed tonight with those eager to watch the heated rivalry between Canadians Virtue & Moir and Americans Davis & White in the Ice Dance Program. Both teams are evenly matched, but London is home for the Canadians, Virtue from London and Moir from Ilderton, close by.
There are 29 teams primarily from Europe, Russia and the former USSR, but also teams from Turkey and Japan. Byelorussians Viktoria Kavaliova and Yurii Bieliaiev score poorly, but when the announcer explains that their skates were lost in transit, forcing them to compete in borrowed gear, the crowd loudly cheers their courage. In fact, the appreciative crowd warmly applauds all of the skaters, alert to hand-clap whenever the music dictates and often letting out collective "oohs" to accompany mistakes. Twice when scores are perceived too low, a collective "boo" resounds in the air.
There are six groups of five skaters with fresh ice thanks to the Zamboni after every two rounds. The big guns skate late which allows me time to explore the Gardens. I discover that former great,
, is on hand with his idiosyncratic art work selling well and a display exhibited at Museum London, just across the street.
Ice dance is characterized by grace, fluidity, rhythm, coordination and interpretative costumes and music designed and choreographed to best illustrate the skaters' artistry. During the course of the evening, I'm amazed at how many European teams have chosen cowboy music for their routines. Do they think southwestern Ontario equates with Calgary and its Stampede?
Despite a fine start, young Nagy from Hungary catches an edge and slips beside his dance partner, reminding me what I hate most about figure skating - on the slippery surface, anything can happen, especially a sudden fall, and disaster perpetually lurks mere milliseconds away with a slight lack of focus ruining months and years of hard work. As world champion Patrick Chan points out, in figure skating there is no second half or third period, and for short dance, it;s over in less than 3 minutes, most pairs ending at about 2.45.
Ice dancers do not jump, so there are no acrobatic quads, axels, Lutz;s and salchows. Instead, they weave, curl, zigzag and glide up and down, often straying too close to the boards at surprising speed. The warm-ups themselves are dangerous with five teams, ten skaters all vying for space.
Alas, tonight the Americans finish slightly ahead for gold and the Canadians settle for silver, but that might soon change at Sochi in Russia's Winter Olympics next year when we send our largest team. Suffice to say that overall, Canadian figure skating is in good shape, and London, Ontario, thanks to their arena, intends to compete for more world class events here as well.
The exterior brick Budweiser facade serves up a light show called
"The Tree of Light"
after the competition, neatly incorporating a replica facade of the old 19th century Talbot Inn, once located here. In addition to the standard end stage configuration for large concerts, the Gardens can be set up to accommodate touring Broadway shows, smaller concerts in its theatre mode or basketball, rodeos and "monster truck" shows.
is owned by the London Civic Centre Corporation, an example of a public-private partnership. The Corporation is owned in turn by multiple parties, including
The City of London
, the Philadelphia-based company that also manages the centre, and operates more than 40 other arenas, stadiums and convention centres.
London abounds with ample hotel rooms and exciting eateries. Check the resources below.
Skate Canada, Stephan Potopnyk
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.