Copyright 1998 The Detroit News, Inc. The Detroit News October 29, 1998, Thursday SECTION: Sports; Pg. Pg. C1 LENGTH: 742 words HEADLINE: Skate America lacks top names BYLINE: By Cynthia Lambert / The Detroit News BODY: DETROIT -- Ask any casual figure skating fan to name three women skaters and the names Tara Lipinski, Michelle Kwan and Nicole Bobek likely would surface first. But only one of those women will be in Detroit for the Skate America competition, which takes place at Joe Louis Arena beginning tonight and concluding with the popular Gala Exhibition on Sunday afternoon. There will be women's, men's, pairs and dance competition. But why only one of the three notable women? Lipinski, the endearing diminutive skater who captured the hearts of many fans last winter from the Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan, turned professional and is no longer eligible for the International Skating Union's event. The story on the charming and graceful Kwan is a bit more muddled. The rules of this Grand Prix figure skating competition do not allow her to compete in just this one event. So despite wanting to come to Detroit and defend her three-time running championship of Skate America, Kwan will be absent. But Bill Lee, the senior director of marketing for Olympia Entertainment, said that not having Kwan attend should only mildly affect the interest level. "This year's field is the strongest we've had," Lee said. "The reason is that from Day 1, the men's field has been very strong. If we did get Michelle Kwan, it would have been icing on the cake, no pun intended." Despite not having Kwan, the presence of the refined and popular Bobek certainly helps. She will lead the group of 10 women from seven different countries. Bobek, who is from Chicago but trains at the Detroit Skating Club, isn't the only woman skater from the United States who is expected to make a strong showing this weekend. Two 18-year-olds -- Brittney McConn of Marietta, Ga. and Angela Nikodinov of San Pedro, Calif. -- hope to draw some attention in Detroit. This will be their first chance, since Skate America is the first of the six competitions that lead up to the ISU Grant Prix Series Final, to be held March 4-7, 1999 in St. Petersburg, Russia. According to the format of the Grand Prix event, the top five competitors in each category will receive prize money, ranging from $ 3,000 to $ 30,000. The top eight competitors in the women's, men's and dance will receive points toward qualifying for the Final. The top six in the pairs receive points. There are six Grand Prix events in all, with the next five taking place in Canada, Germany, France, Russia and Japan. But Skate America is first on the list. In also is the event with the most potential for pleasant surprises. "It is the first event of the season," said Bob Dunlop of the United States Figure Skating Association. "It's an excellent field of skaters. It's really tough to handicap the event." Canada's Elvis Stojko is the big name on the men's front, along with Michael Weiss of the United States, and Russians Alexei Urmanov and Alexei Yagudin. Urmanov won Olympic gold in 1994 and Yagudin is the reigning World Champion "If you look at the men's field, it's a quadruple lead," Lee said. "That's an excellent field of competitors. Elvis Stojko is one of the biggest draws in figure skating along with Todd Eldredge and Michelle Kwan. Todd isn't competing in the events, but he will skate on Sunday in the exhibition." A few of the skaters who previously committed to the event have pulled out. Marie Pierre Loray of France withdrew from the women's competition; Sven Meyer of German has been replaced by Michael Hopfes in the men's program; and the dance pair of Jessica Joseph of Bloomfield Hills and Charles Butler of Kalamazoo have withdrawn. For the four-day event, Joe Louis Arena will implement a new curtaining system to block off the upper bowl. That leaves only the prime lower bowl seating. Tickets, priced at $ 25 and $ 40, are still available for all four days. The $ 25 tickets are located in the corners, where the skaters perform most of their jumps. Skate America What: Skate America is the first of six events in the International Skating Union's Grand Prix series. When: Tonight through Sunday Where: Joe Louis Arena Tickets: $ 40 and $ 25 can be purchased at the JLA and Fox Theatre box offices or any Ticketmaster location. To charge tickets by phone, call (248) 645-6666. Ticket packages ($ 200, $ 145, $ 142 and $ 87) are also available by calling (313) 965-3099. Weekend events Schedule: Thursday, 7:30 p.m., Opening Ceremony
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