In the moment

Enthusiasm for winter sports takes hold of young and old alike during the Olympics

February 26, 2010|By Susan Reimer | Baltimore Sun reporter

Just about every Olympian worth his mettle will eventually tell a TV camera that the dream took hold years ago in front of a television set.

There is nothing like wall-to-wall coverage of the Games to inspire young and old alike to try a new sport, or re-energize the passion for one, and the Vancouver Olympics are no exception.

"The numbers always go up during the Olympic season," said Linda Monney, who runs the skating program at Piney Orchard Ice Rink in Odenton.

"Then the numbers gradually go down, and in the fourth year we start all over again." n Rinks all over Maryland have noticed the crowds increase during public skating hours this month.

"The girls want to ice-skate," said Monney. "But the boys watch the hockey and want to learn that."

Kayla Koski, a fifth-grader, and Macy McIver, 14, are determined to be top competitors. Their mothers, cooling their heels rinkside at the Reisterstown Sportsplex, will tell you that the dream costs about $25,000 a year and eats up hours of practice time and miles of travel.

Lacing up in the lobby, the girls make plans to watch the women's competition that evening from Vancouver.

"Watching the skaters on TV just makes me want to go out there and do that spin and do that jump," said Kayla of Eldersburg.

Macy fell for men's gold medalist Evan Lysacek. "He is so graceful, his spins are so fast and his footwork is so good."

Phyllis Friello, a Baltimore schoolteacher, has been skating and competing in pairs events for 20 years, but there is nothing like an Olympic season to get the juices flowing faster.

"I love the Olympics," she said. "It is 16 days of glory and a chance to share in the world's happiness."

If your youngster wants to give it a go, there are learn-to-skate programs at rinks such as Piney Orchard that cost a little more than $100 for skates, lessons and a practice session each week for seven weeks.

Public skating is often crowded, but that costs a little more than $12 for a couple of hours on the ice and a pair of rental skates.

And while Macy and Kayla pay $1,000 a pair for skates that last only half a year, a good pair of leather skates (order them through the pro shop of a rink for a better fit) should cost about $100.

The "O" that is inspiring an explosion in youth hockey in Maryland isn't the Olympics, it's Alexander Ovechkin, star of the resurgent Washington Capitals of the National Hockey League.

"Hockey is hot right now," said Dan Houck, director of operations for Maryland Team Hockey. "Every rink offers some type of learn-to-play program. We have 60 5- to 8-year-olds, and we are turning people away."

The travel team players might spent between $800 and $1,000 a year on hockey expenses, but most rinks also have starter sets of equipment to lend out to beginners, Houck said.

"Ovechkin is 75 percent of the reason, but the Olympics are in there, too," said Capitals great Nelson Burton, who runs the youth program at Piney Orchard.

"Things had declined to the point where we were ready to not have a program. Now we've had to double the number of ice spots," Burton said.

The formula for success is donated equipment, ice time and coaching to get kids started.

"If a kid tries it for three or four weeks and likes it, we have an inexpensive way to set you up. It used to cost $1,000. Now, with donated equipment, it costs less than $200 and a youngster can get going.

Enrollment is rolling, so kids can jump into a 13-week program at any time.

"We've erased a lot of the hurdles," he said.

It doesn't take an Olympics to jump-start snowboarding. It is the fastest-growing winter sport.

"It isn't really something we notice every four years," said John McCracken of Wisp Ski Resort near Deep Creek Lake. "It is something we notice every single year.

"Every year we get more and more first-time and beginning snowboarders. There are only a few die-hards who think you have to learn to ski first."

Like hockey and ice-skating, snowboarding has learn-to-ride packages that give you a lift ticket, equipment and lessons for under $100.

"It is different for everybody, but we promise you can have fun in the first few hours, and you should be up and riding in three to five lessons."

A beginner will spend less than $300 on boots, bindings and a board and another $50 on a good helmet. Baggy clothes in wild colors like the ones Olympic champion Shawn White wears are extra.

No other sport gets the kind of attention curling gets every four years when television commentators reach back to ancient Scotland to explain why grown men chase a sliding rock with brooms.

The National Capital Curling Center in Laurel is the only rink painted with the curling "house," and the Potomac Curling Club offers plenty of learn-to-curl lessons.

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