Figure skaters staying sharp in off-season

In the midst of a July heat wave, the only ice most of those in Prince George will find is at the bottom of a tumbler glass.

But after a six-week hiatus from the May long weekend to June 29, the ice is back in at the Elksentre and that's just fine with the Northern B.C. Centre for Skating.

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The club is in week four of its annual nine-week summer skating training session where junior, intermediate and senior figure skaters are honing their skills for the 2015-16 competitive season.

And while it may be tough for some athletes to spend as much as two-and-a- half hours at the rink five days a week during the summer, NBCCS director of skating Andrea Ludditt said it's worth it in the long run.

"Having extra time on the ice is an overall gain," she said. "If we stop the season until September, they're back to where they started. If they do three to four weeks in the summer, that translates into two to three months (in the winter). The improvement in the kids is outstanding."

The summer session attracts not only athletes from Prince George, but those from as far away as Williams Lake, Quesnel and Vanderhoof. Skaters work on their free skating, technique and positioning as well as rule changes in their programs as mandated by Skate Canada.

One NBCCS skater who has taken advantage of the summer ice time is 13-year-old Justin Hampole.

Skating fans in Prince George will remember Hampole's captivating bronze-medal performance in pre-novice men's at the 2015 Canada Winter Games at Kin 1.

This year, he has jumped up a level to novice men's and is testing out his programs this week in Michigan at the 34th annual Skate Detroit competition.

He takes to the ice for his short program on Thursday and will conclude with his free skate Saturday.

"We kept his short program and we added more (elements) to his long because it went from three to three-and-a-half minutes," said Ludditt. "His programs are working really well together. He just needs more triples (jumps). He just has one triple - a triple Salchow which is really beautiful. And he has his double Axel. A lot of these kids he's competing against already have four or five triples."

There are 36 skaters in Hampole's group, including 14 Canadians. Among them are Stephen Gogolev from Toronto, who stood beside Hampole on the Winter Games podium when he captured the pre-novice men's title.

Hampole is the first skater from Prince George who has competed nationally at the novice level.

Ludditt said the club membership has continued to grow over the years and she hopes the success of figure skating during the Winter Games, where fans crammed into Kin 1, will add to the popularity of the sport at the local level.

"The support Justin had (during the Games) was just amazing," said Ludditt. "Our CanSkate program is full and our power skating program (beginning in August)... we're still building."

The youngest athlete the NBCCS has is three (in the junior academy), while the youngest in the junior program is five.

The club resumes its regular training schedule in September when school goes back in session.

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