Jill Kurman began taking ice skating lessons four years ago -- ever since she saw the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.
And during the last two weeks, she has been practicing harder than ever, she says, striving to imitate her favorite, gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi. "She's very graceful and pretty," said the 10-year-old from Pikesville. "Everything she does triple, I do
It happens every four years, said Lisa Lalor, a figure-skating coach at Northwest Family Sport Center in Mount Washington. Every time the Olympic torch travels to a different winter resort, area ice rinks see a surge in skating interest and class enrollment. Crowds of hopefuls take to the ice, eager to match the triple axels and spins of the athletes at the games.
"We get record-breaking crowds, both joining and competing," said Ms. Lalor. "Sales are up on skates, costumes, admissions, lessons -- it's a glorious year."
Curtis Roberts, the assistant manager of the Patterson Park Ice Rink, also has spotted a few skating hopefuls flirting with spins and twirls. "They try to imitate the stuff they saw on TV," he said.
Mr. Roberts guesses the attendance at public skating sessions at the Patterson Park rink jumps by about 25 percent to 30 percent while Olympic excitement is in the air.
Although the four-year cycle is a sure thing, increases depend on how the U.S. team does in skating or hockey. "If we take gold or silver, it does really good," said Kathleen Golding, the administrative manager at the Columbia Ice Rink in Columbia. The rink has had to deny 150 to 200 people beginner lessons this season due to excess enrollment, she said.
Yet Ms. Golding believes the economy has kept this peak of interest from getting as high as it could.
Nonetheless, the Olympic-inspired enthusiasm at the rinks turns Jill off. "When you try to do your program, everyone bumps into you," said Jill, who still squeezes into the rink at Northwest.
In fact, the only time the rink at Northwest has been empty in the past few days was last Wednesday when the women's original program was on television, Ms. Lalor said. Only three skaters were on the ice.