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Steve Chiotakis: The U.S. figure skating championships kick off today in Spokane, Wash. They'll determine which U.S. skaters advance to next month's Winter Olympics in Vancouver. But the winners may not have as much media draw as the skaters who once dominated the airwaves. Here's arketplace's Mitchell Harman.
Mitchell Hartman: Ever hear of Rachael Flatt or Alissa Czisny? If you haven't, that's probably not great news for Smuckers, AT&T, and State Farm, sponsors of the U.S. figure skating championships. Both skaters are expected to advance to the Winter games, but they certainly don't have the same name recognition as Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding.
USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan was at the Winter games in 1994, when the pair faced off.
Christine Brennan: When the women's short program went on in Lillehammer, Norway, the TV ratings were huge. Half the nation basically watched something that was eight hours old and they knew the results of.
Brennan points out even the Super Bowl doesn't get ratings that high anymore, and most sports have seen audience deterioration. But figure skating has fared worse. By the 2006 games, just 16 percent of Americans tuned in to watch the women skate.
Brennan: The U.S. does not have a dominant female skater and hasn't since Michelle Kwon retired in '06. And there's been no one to fill the void.
Come February, figure skating is still expected to top the ratings--ahead of bobsled, skiing, even men's hockey, says Hill Carrow, who's organizing the next U.S. figure skating championships.
Hill Carrow: Figure skating is the number-one sport in the winter Olympics. By every measure, it's the most popular, it's the most watched.
Elisa Cottrell will be watching. I met her at an indoor skating rink in Portland, where here daughter was taking a lesson.
Elisa Cottrell: I always liked figure skating when I was younger, and now that my daughter's really excited about it I think, you know, it'll be fun to watch the Olympics with her.
That's figure skating's ideal target audience -- a mother and daughter watching TV in prime time. It's also a good demographic for local skating rinks, which expect to see a surge of young girls coming in for lessons, skates and rink time after all the hype and medal-winning in Vancouver.
I'm Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.