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Blades of glory: 2,700 skaters at Sears Centre for synchronized skating tournament

In foreground from left Carlie Manno Buffalo Grove Darah Yee Northbrook Katie Fiore Lake Forest compete for Starlights Skating Teams

In foreground from left, Carlie Manno of Buffalo Grove, Darah Yee of Northbrook, and Katie Fiore of Lake Forest compete for Starlights Skating Teams on the junior team. | Provided

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Tickets are $30 for one day and $60 for all events. Senior tickets are $20 for one day. There is no charge for active military and children under the age of 5.

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Updated: February 24, 2014 12:15PM

HOFFMAN ESTATES — If you want to see a flashy, up-and-coming ice sport that won’t be at the Sochi Olympic Games next month, then the Sears Centre is the place to be this weekend.

From Thursday through Saturday, the venue — and the ice rink at the Triphahn Center, also in Hoffman Estates — will be hosting the 2014 Midwestern/Pacific Coast Synchronized Skating Sectional Championships.

While you might not have heard of this sport, this U.S. Figure Skating qualifying event will feature 2,700 skaters representing 171 synchronized skating teams from the Midwest and West Coast, with competitors hoping to advance to the 2014 Synchronized Skating National Championships in late February in Colorado Springs, Colo.

“This event has brought over 5,000 room nights to the region. We will have young athletes staying in more than 20 hotels, from Elk Grove to Elgin,” Hoffman Estates Director of Tourism Linda Scheck said.

“About 800 of the skaters are from Chicago area teams. And we’re expecting big crowds because of the location,” said volunteer Jane Fiore said.

Fiore is helping get the word out about the tournament and the sport. Her daughter Katie, 14, competes for the host teams, the Starlights of Buffalo Grove/Vernon Hills.

“The event rotates between venues, and this was the first time we put a bid into U.S. Figure Skating (the governing body). The tournament was last in the Chicago area about 14 years ago, and it promises to be the largest event of its kind in the history of U.S. Figure Skating,” Fiore said.

“The sport got its start in the 1950s as entertainment during intermissions at University of Michigan hockey games,” Fiore said. “Today it’s one of the fastest-growing disciplines in figure skating — and it’s big globally, too.”

In synchronized skating, teams of 12 to 20 athletes perform intricate routines in unison on the ice to music, with those routines having themes to hold them together. At higher levels of competition, there is a long program and a short program.

Other Chicago-area clubs include the Dazzlers, the Jazz, the Radiance, and Starfire. Fiore said about 99 percent of the competitors are women, and the men who do compete do so on co-ed teams. There are levels of competition for ages 6 and above, with the oldest skater being 72, Fiore said.

While parts of synchronized skating might look like crack the whip in coordinated outfits, it also has something in common with the pageantry and maneuvering of drum and bugle corps and maybe a touch of modern drill teams and cheering squads, along with moves familiar from pairs, ice dancing and even individual figure skating categories.

While something this full of spectacle seems made for HDTV, synchronized skating also remains the only figure skating event not in the Olympics. Fiore mentioned there is a grass-roots effort underway — #WhyNotSynchro to tweet bomb #Sochi2014 — which is to say, flood Olympic-related Twitter posts with ones wanting the sport to be part of the Games.

As for what draws her and her daughter to the sport, Fiore said, “It’s the team aspect. It’s less lonely than individual skating can be, and it builds a sense of camaraderie. It also requires an amazing amount of commitment, with practice schedules including times very early in the morning and later in the evening. So the participants learn a good deal about time management and independence.”

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