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Norwich - As soon as the skate guards opened the rink door for the afternoon public skate session Saturday, brothers Nathan and Alex Pratt of Colchester burst onto the ice, etching the first blade marks on freshly smoothed surface.
"We're here every time it's open," said Nathan, 8, clad in hockey skates as he practiced ice-scraping stops, backward maneuvers and intricate weaving between other skaters at the Norwich Ice Rink.
The Pratt brothers' father, Mike, said he and his sons "live here on the weekends," and that the afternoon snow was no deterrent. His boys had started the day at the rink with hockey lessons, while he and other parents gathered around a television set in the lobby outside the rink to watch the U.S.-Russia Olympics hockey game.
"It's just something I like to do with the kids, and this is like the only exercise I get," he said as he laced up his black hockey skates. "During the holidays, we were here like all day, every day. The staff is really nice, and they make my kids feel at home here."
About 60 people turned out for the public skate session Saturday, Shannon Fitzgerald, box office manager said. Lately, she said, public skate sessions have been drawing as many as 200, but the heavy snow Saturday kept the usual numbers down. Bethany Telgarsky of Norwich, an 18-year-old skate guard, has noticed a new enthusiasm for skating, inspired by the Olympics.
"The Olympics has sparked an interest in skating," said Telgarsky, who started skating at age 7 and now teaches basic skating at the rink. "I have little girls coming up to me to ask me how to spin. That's the best."
Telgarsky herself is finding new inspiration from watching some of her favorite skaters in the Olympics, including Gracie Gold and Jason Brown of the United States, and Yuna Kim of South Korea. After teaching young skaters the waltz jump and some basic spins, Telgarsky spends hours working on her own jumps and spins.
"My first regional competition will be this October," she said. "One of my goals is to try to make the Olympics in 2018. That's my life."
As skaters of all ages and levels of expertise circumnavigated the rink, two skaters occupied a space in the center cordoned off with orange traffic cones.
"Today we're learning a new program," explained instructor Rachel Bailey, who was teaching 6-year-old Skylar Shapiro of Waterford some steps for a "Rock Around the Clock" routine for an upcoming competition. "We're learning the bunny hop, and working on some backwards crossovers, and she did a nice two-foot spin."
Skylar said she's been skating for about a year, and has been watching as much figure skating on the Olympics as possible.
Friends Jordan Warecke, 14, and Matt Kane, 15, both from Old Lyme, skate at the rink once a week. It didn't take the Olympics to get them interested in the sport, they said, but they did enjoy watching the U.S.-Russia hockey matchup that morning, getting up at 7 a.m. to tune into the live broadcast.
"It was intense," Jordan said of the game, which ended with a 3-2 win for the U.S. team.
Before driving from his home in Colchester for an afternoon at the rink, Bill DeRosa was up early watching the game, too.
"It was incredible," he said, as he pulled a black skate over a thin white sock - the type he prefers to the "squishiness" of a heavy wool one.
He plays in a men's hockey league, and said he keeps his skate legs strong by coming to the public skate session "whenever I can."
"I'll skate for about an hour today," he said. "It's a great workout, another way to burn some calories."