- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 18, 2002

When the World Figure Skating Championships come to the MCI Center in March, Asia Abdullah hopes to be among the young people who skate onto the rink to pick up flowers, ribbons and stuffed animals thrown by adoring fans after competitors finish their performances.

Yesterday, Asia and 66 other skaters got a chance to earn a spot as a sweeper at the 2003 World Figure Skating Championships. The early-morning tryouts, which were held at the Fort Dupont Ice Arena in Southeast, attracted skaters from around the area all eager to pick up roses and teddy bears thrown on the ice in appreciation for competitors.

Sweepers get to meet internationally renowned athletes such as Sarah Hughes, who won the Gold medal in Women's Figure Skating this year and Michelle Kwan, the two-time Olympic medal winner.

Fifty youngsters will be chosen as sweepers. It will be several weeks before the lucky 50 are notified.

"I'm looking forward to trying something new," said Asia, 13, who is a member of the "Kids on Ice" program at the Fort Dupont Ice Arena.

Enjoying ice skating and being selected as an ice sweeper are two different things. Yesterday, the skaters were judged by a panel of five on their skating ability their ability to maneuver with ease, and their speed and control while carrying objects and their appearance and attitude, which included their ability to follow directions, get along with others and exhibit grace under pressure.

In the three-hour tryouts, the youth girls and boys, ages 9 to 13 glided across the ice during the "stuffed animal segment" and gracefully scooped up a variety of objects thrown on the ice by volunteers. The skaters filled their arms with an assortment of flowers and stuffed animals, then quickly disappeared. With minutes between competitions, the ice sweepers have to move quickly before the next skater appears.

"The ice sweepers make sure the ice is safe for the competitive skaters. And, it's quite an honor to be selected as an ice sweeper. It's very exciting because the event is televised worldwide and they're around internationally known skaters," said Terri Ann Lowenthal, skating director and instructor at Fort Dupont Ice Arena.

Along with Asia, two other young skaters, Joelle Milton, 13, and Emeatabong Morfaw, 11, from the Fort Dupont "Kids on Ice" program qualified to participate in the tryouts yesterday.

"They have a chance to work on their social graces, on their presentations and their skating ability. Even if they're not chosen, I'm still very proud of them," Ms. Lowenthal said.

Emeatabong, a sixth-grader at James McHenry Elementary School in Lanham, Md., started skating four years ago.

"This is exciting. It would be fun to meet new people and make new friends," she said after the tryouts were over. "I think I did well not as good as some, but I still hope I'm selected," she said.

Emeatabong said skating has increased her flexibility and enabled her excel in ballet and gymnastics.

When asked who inspires her on ice, the bright-eyed skater said "Michelle Kwan."

"When I watch her on TV and I see her footwork and her edges, and the way she does her jumps and spins, I try to imitate her style of skating," she said.

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