By Jay Young
It's not every day that you get an opportunity to see world-class athletes participating on the local stage, but as we edge closer and closer to the opening ceremonies of the Winter Games in Sochi, there is a good chance that area residents may get to see some familiar faces grace the podium.
Just a few months ago - Dec. 14, to be precise - more than 2,000 fans poured into the Jamestown Savings Bank Arena on a frigid Saturday evening for the second annual Progressive Skating and Gymnastics Spectacular.
And, for the second consecutive year, the event, which features various skating and gymnastics routines as well as musical performances, was able to successfully bring world-class talent and entertainment to a smaller regional market.
It is because of Steve Disson, who manages the event via his company, Disson Skating, that Jamestown has been able to catch a glimpse of some of the best skaters on the planet.
"Jamestown may be a smaller area, but they are passionate about skating and seeing Olympic athletes perform," noted Pete Bockelman of Disson Skating in an email Wednesday evening. "The energy inside the Jamestown Savings Bank Arena the past two years has been great and we felt like the athletes fed off that energy and turned in some amazing performances for the audience."
Now, thanks to the local popularity of the show over the past two years, Jamestown can look forward to more opportunities in the future to check out skaters who will be competing on the international level.
"We pride ourselves on bringing the highest levels of competition and entertainment to our community and have been fortunate to host some of today's best figure skaters," said Phil Genco, who is director of marketing for JSBA.
While many people recognized the names of past Olympic greats such as Kristi Yamaguchi and Michael Weiss at this years' event, there are a number of younger skaters who have taken to the ice in Jamestown that will now be competing in Sochi with the hope of claiming gold for the United States.
Over the next few weeks the pairs team of Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir will take to the ice in Russia in their first ever Olympics after tuning up for the international stage with some entertainment in the 2013 Skating Spectacular.
The pair has claimed gold medals at both the 2013 and 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, and will now look to come away with a podium finish against the best in the world.
These Olympics hold a special place for Shnapir not just because they are his first, but because the 25-year-old was born in Russia before moving to the U.S.
"It's really exciting to think that some of the greatest athletes in the world have competed and performed at our arena right here in Jamestown, New York," Genco said. "All of us here at the arena will definitely be watching the Sochi Olympics closely and rooting for team USA."
Joining Castelli and Shnapir in their bid for gold will also be seven Americans who participated in the first event held by Disson in Jamestown in 2012.
Chicago resident Gracie Gold, the 2014 gold medalist at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, hopes to live up to her namesake in Sochi in women's singles figure skating. This will be the first ever Winter Games for Gold.
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Ashley Wagner will also carry America's hopes for a medal into her first-ever Olympics. The 22-year-old California native was a surprise appointment to the U.S. team and was a headliner for Jamestown's Skating Spectacular in 2012.
It seems like every gold medalist from the U.S. Figure Skating Championships has graced the ice of Jamestown over the past two years, as leading men's skater, Jeremy Abbott of Aspen, will participate in his second games after headlining for Disson in 2012.
The sibling pairs team of Maia and Alex Shibutani are also rookie Olympians in Sochi and will be competing in ice dancing in addition to Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who also made their way to Jamestown last year.
"Also, Nastia Liukin, an Olympic gold medalist in gymnastics and has participated in the show the last two years will be a correspondent for NBC in Sochi. Her parents are originally from Russia, so she will be doing features throughout the Olympics for NBC," Bockelman said.