Winter Olympics boosting DFW skating rinks' business

With the wave of an instructor's wand a stream of soap bubbles magically appeared.

Kate Trinh, age 4, didn't hesitate.

The child ventured fearlessly across the ice in the company of other preschoolers.

Arms outstretched, the tiny skaters extinguished the delicate orbs as they floated on air, clapping at them with their mittens.

Darlene Cain smiled at the playful scene.

She wasn't surprised by the enthusiasm or the size of the turnout.

On an evening when NBC's coverage of the Winter Olympics featured figure skating -- the sport dominates the prime-time programming for 10 nights -- about 60 youngsters, divided into groups, participated in skating lessons at the Dr Pepper StarCenter Ice Arena in Euless.

"During the Winter Olympics we see a big increase in our skating school," said Cain, the facility's skating programs manager. "Some rinks have 250 to 300 [students] per semester. In an Olympic year we see maybe a 25 percent increase."

To coincide with the Vancouver Games the StarCenter is offering the Olympic Fever minimester, four weekly skating lessons for $50. Enrollment is open to beginners ages 3 and older.

Most Olympic figure skaters start taking lessons as toddlers.

Rachael Flatt, the 17-year-old U.S. champion, put on skates at age 4. Teammate Mirai Nagasu, 16, started training at age 5.

Cain, a native of Canada, took her daughter onto a frozen pond in Ottawa when the child was 2. Ashley Cain began lessons at age 4 in Euless.

Years of hard work and single-minded dedication have paid big dividends. Ashley, 14, and partner Joshua Reagan won the novice pairs gold medal at the U.S. National Figure Skating Championships last month. Ashley was also the novice ladies silver medalist.

The two are members of Team 2014, among the U.S. hopefuls for the next Winter Games.

Kate Trinh and 3-year-old Lana Buczek may never skate competitively. But the youngsters are learning a skill and having fun.

During their group lesson an instructor tossed several stuffed toy animals onto the ice. The children learn to bend down, pick up the objects and maintain their balance. The soap bubble game is designed to encourage the little ones to move about the glassy surface without thinking.

"Young children are fearless," Cain said. "They're going to imitate and try without any thought process of weighing the consequences. ... Around age 5 you see them really start to progress."

Tristan Jones, 3, has been skating for four months.

His father isn't interested in his son learning to execute a toe loop or triple Axel.

"I'm trying to get him into hockey," Mike Jones said.

Darlene Cain's husband, Peter, is one of the StarCenter's instructors. He and his sister competed in pairs figure skating at the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, N.Y.

On the last day of Olympic Fever, the Australian-born skater will show students the Olympic torch he carried at the 2000 Games in Sydney.

The kids can look at it. Touch it.

And, perhaps, dream.

DAVID CASSTEVENS, 817-390-7436