Winter Games inspire students in local skating programs


“In Olympic years, we always almost double our entries.”

The Boston Skating Club

Every four years, the ice gets a little more crowded at local rinks.

As the Olympics begin this weekend, local skating club managers say the Games have a huge impact on the sport every time they come around.

“Equivocally,” said Doug Zeghibe, executive director of the Skating Club of Boston. While the club always sees an increase in enrollment after Christmas, in Olympic years “it’s always a much bigger increase”.

“The kids are just excited [about it]said Zeghibe.

Boston Common Skating School student Pia Mercurio circles the ice. (Courtesy of Jackie Mercurio)

In the club’s First Steps program for toddlers and preschoolers, eight children were enrolled in September for the fall session. When the current session started last week, there were 46 kids on the ice, Zeghibe said.

While he’s not sure if the Olympics prompted them to enter or if it was a coincidence, he laughs, it’s interesting to see such a jump in numbers.

At Boston Common Skating School, the story is the same.

“In Olympic years, we almost always double our entry,” said owner Jackie Mercurio. His school offers classes for all ages at the Charlestown and North End rinks. In fact, the students currently range in age from 3 to 80 years old.

While kids see glimpses of Olympian skaters on TV, Mercurio said, it’s awesome and exciting, and they see it as something fun to learn and keep active.

The Winter Games have been a huge topic of excitement at the skating school for months since tryouts began.

“A lot of people talk about the Olympics at the rink,” Mercurio said. “We were so excited for this.”

Whereas in previous years Mercurio and his coaching staff — all current or former competitors themselves — hosted a watch party for figure skating events, COVID restrictions make that difficult this year.

But students and staff all follow their favorite skaters and their performances. Everyone is looking forward to seeing Nathan Chen, of course, as he returns to the Games, Mercurio said.

“Everyone wants to be like Nathan,” she said.

The public becomes invested in the figure skaters and their stories, said Skating Club’s Zeghibe. Take for example Michelle Kwan and how popular she became as the public rooted for her pursuit of gold, he noted.

“[People] followed her from the start of her career,” he said. “People were very invested.

With Chen, fans are eager to see his return after his struggles at the last Games. “It’s personal for them,” Zeghibe said.

“Everyone supports Nathan,” he added.

This zeal for athletes and ice skating will not fade after the Olympic flame is extinguished in Beijing or anytime soon. His presence is no longer limited to just one group, after all. Temporary rinks are popping up more frequently in backyards and in neighborhood parks or outdoor malls where families, couples, teens and adults are all testing out the ice.

Mercurio agrees that the popularity of backyard rinks is bringing new eyes to skating.

Especially since the start of the pandemic, it has allowed friends to safely gather outdoors and have fun, she said. Then, after having tasted hockey or figure skating, it leads some to take lessons.

“Skating is synonymous with winter in New England,” added Mercurio.

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