Minnesota is known as the State of Hockey, yet there’s another world of elite athletes who share the ice: figure skaters. This month, St. Paul hosts the 2016 U.S. Figure Skating Championships at the Xcel Energy Center. Barb Yackel, a Minnesota-based coach of more than 40 years, is helping coordinate events leading up to the big competition. She is also the director of the Blades-N-Motion Skating School at Doug Woog Arena in South St. Paul, and is the Ratings/Events Coordinator of the Professional Skaters Association.
“I came from a skating family. My dad played on the hockey team in the 1952 Olympics and my mom was a speed skater, so I was destined to be on the ice. I was first in skates when I was two, and began formal lessons when I was 12 at Wakota [now Doug Woog] Arena in South St. Paul. I’ve experienced all avenues: The athlete. The coach. The parent of a skater. And now I’m on the administrative side.”
“Nationals [U.S. Championships] is the pinnacle event for skaters who qualify through regionals, and then sectionals, to get to this point. For every little girl or boy that skates, this is their dream.”
“I’m [taking part in] choreographing and directing the opening ceremonies. There are 80 local skaters in the production and we’re paying tribute to skating history in Minnesota. Ice Follies was born in Minneapolis, movies have been made here like The Mighty Ducks and Ice Castles. We’ve hosted numerous events including the 1998 World Championships, 2010 U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships, 1985 Skate America, and multiple national championships.”
“Cities bid to host Nationals and St. Paul was selected this year—I believe it’s because of the outstanding job they did when it was here in ’08. And the Xcel is one of the top venues in the country, so why wouldn’t Nationals come back? Unfortunately, figure skating is a tough sell in Minnesota because we’re up against hockey.”
“When I was growing up, I knew a fella who was an artist. He made this [piece] that said, ‘hockey is king.’ And I said, ‘but figure skating is queen.’ I think people know that figure skating exists—it’s probably one of the most watched winter Olympic events, but Minnesotans are so focused in the winter months on hockey.”
“I’ve lost a lot of really good figure skaters to hockey because coaches love that they can skate. Then you put a stick in their hand, teach them the game, and you’ve got a winner. Minnesota is not a training hotbed for figure skating, but we have a lot of athletes, a lot of skating clubs, and our skate schools are thriving.”
“Our nationally recognized hockey players had to start somewhere—and they start in our learn-to-skate programs. I trained with Diane Ness [founder of Pro Edge Power] when we were members of the St. Paul Figure Skating Club, and now she’s training NHL and Olympic hockey players. Skating is alive and well in Minnesota and our figure skating community is strong, too. What it comes down to is that skating is skating.”
Online extra: Read about one figure skater’s experience of skating in a hockey-dominated state.