By John Henderson, The Denver Post
It's a year away from the Vancouver Olympics, and new American skating stars are emerging — most notably Jeremy Abbott and Brandon Mroz of Colorado Springs, who finished 1-2 in the men's competition at last month's nationals in Cleveland.
They aren't exactly household names, but they could be. And they may need to be to help figure skating, which seems to have slipped in popularity.
"It has," acknowledges 1996 world champion Todd Eldredge, the last American man to win a world title, and a performer with Stars on Ice. "It has across the globe."
What does U.S. figure skating need?
"It needs a Jeremy Abbott, a Brandon Mroz," Eldredge said. "It needs a new, young, fresh face that not only can go out and be endearing to the audience but consistent and be a champion and do well and stay in."
For tonight at least, figure skating will come to Denver, with 1998 Olympic gold medalist Ilia Kulik and defending world champions Jeffrey Buttle and Yuka Sato headlining the Smucker's Stars on Ice exhibition at 7 p.m. at the Pepsi Center.
Kulik is from Russia, and Buttle is from Canada. The U.S. hasn't had an Olympic or world champion since Kimmie Meissner won the world championship after the 2006 Olympics.
America's last two Olympic champions, Tara Lipinski in 1998 and Sarah Hughes in 2002, never skated in another Olympics.
Michelle Kwan, a five-time world champion, retired and Meissner has been hurt. Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir, who combined to win the five previous national championships, are unlikely candidates, Eldredge said.
"They're so concerned with their own persona as opposed to the crowd, bringing in the crowd," Eldredge said. "When I watch them skate, they don't bring me into their performance. They need to do that."
Other skaters tonight include Sasha Cohen, America's 2006 Olympic silver medalist; Michael Weiss, three-time U.S. champion; John Zimmerman, three-time U.S. pairs champion; Jennifer Robinson, six-time Canadian champion; Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao, China's three-time world pairs champions; and Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, five-time Canadian dance champions.
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