NYC Winter Sports Programs Feeling the ‘Olympic Boost’

February 19, 2014 Updated: February 20, 2014

NEW YORK—Inspired by the athletic feats performed thousands of miles away in Sochi, more and more New Yorkers, young and old alike, are getting out to try the various Olympic winter sports for the first time.

Every time a Winter Olympics comes around, the Flushing Meadows Speedskating Club sees a 25 percent increase in interest. The number of students in figure skating programs at the City Ice Pavilion in Queens has swelled from 100 to 300 since the competitions in Sochi, Russia, began.

And the number of visits to New York’s many ski and snowboard slopes increases by 5 to 10 percent each winter Olympics, according to Scott Brandi, president of Ski Areas of New York Inc., a trade group representing 40 of New York’s ski areas.

“We call it the Olympic boost,” said Glenn Corso, president of the Flushing Meadows Speedskating Club.

Corso, who has worked at the club for over 10 years, has repeatedly seen interest in speedskating spike during Olympic years. The Taconic Speedskating Club also experiences an increase in interest during the Winter Olympics. Kevan Hitch, who oversees memberships at the club, referred to it as the “Olympic bump.”

On the slopes, the uptick is a usual occurrence during the Winter Olympics, but the last two weeks proved particularly bountiful, with perfect snow on the slopes and Americans winning medals on television.

Anticipating the Boost

The figure skating school at the City Ice Pavilion in Queens anticipated the rise in interest and began preparations for the boom as early as November, according to Brianna Younes, the skating school director at City Ice Pavilion.

The program held an Olympic Day Sunday and several free 15-minute sessions to draw in more students. Registration for the next session in early March is already half full, with 150 students registered.

“It’s extremely exciting that it’s actually helping promote and boost the sport,” Younes said about the Olympics. “We have kids that come up to us saying that they want to learn the jumps and spins like the girls on the TV.”

Olympic Dreams

Since this year’s winter Olympics started, a number of newcomers have shown up at the Flushing Meadows Speedskating Club to try speedskating for the first time.

“It’s a bad case of Olympic fever,” Joy Weber, 36, said. “Every four years when the Olympics come on I say ‘I should really try speedskating.’ This was just the year.”

Weber found Flushing Meadows Speedskating Club on the Internet and finally gave the sport a try. She strapped on a pair of long speed skates, kneepads, and a helmet. She spent part of her time on the ice skating freely, and part following the instructors who guided her through exercises.

Weber hopes to keep up with the speedskating. Corso, the club’s president, hopes more people stay on after landing on the ice due to Sochi. About one in four do; speedskating takes more time to learn than other ice skating disciplines.

“It’s not as easy as strapping on rental skates and going out and fooling around,” Corso said.

But the difficulty doesn’t deter everyone. Christian Cabal, 13, plays hockey, but got the Olympic spark for speedskating from seeing the games on TV.

“It feels like I can achieve anything and I can be there too,” Cabal said.

Cabal’s dream may seem like a fairy tale to many, but not to his trainer, Jacqueline Munzel, 50.

After decades of figure skating, Munzel was ready to quit because the sport is strenuous and the risk of injury is high. Four years ago, she was watching the Olympics with her daughter, who said that Munzel should give speedskating a shot.

Since then, Munzel has become a competitive skater. She competed in the Olympic qualifying races for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in all five distances.

“It’s exciting to see new people come on the ice because I was one of those new faces four years ago,” Munzel said.

Follow Ivan on Twitter: @ivanpentchoukov
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