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Idols sign autographs

A group of Tri-City skaters got up close and personal with their Olympic idols when Calgary 1988 Olympic gold medalist Katarina Witt and silver medalist Elizabeth Manley joined them on the ice at Robson Square Sunday.

A group of Tri-City skaters got up close and personal with their Olympic idols when Calgary 1988 Olympic gold medalist Katarina Witt and silver medalist Elizabeth Manley joined them on the ice at Robson Square Sunday.

Kim Horobec, president of the Coquitlam Skating Club, said she was informed about Witt and Manley's visit the night before by Olympic organizers but could only bring seven skaters downtown because many of the rest were competing or volunteering for Olympic Games practice sessions as ice patchers.

"There was a lot of jealousy," joked Horobec, who knew Manley when she skated at the Gloucester Skating Club and the Minto Skating Club in Ottawa. Both had the same coach, Bob McAvoy, and their moms were seat mates in the stands.

Horobec said crowds of people turned out to watch, including many members of the media, and some club members saw it on TV when they were doing their ice-patching job.

Her daughter, Larissa Horobec, who did some spins alongside Manley and Witt, said she wasn't worried about the crowds but did get a little star-struck by the appearances of Witt, who was an East German skater, and Manley, Canada's skating darling. "I just kind of ignored it. It felt really amazing to be on the ice with them. I tried to really impress them," said Larissa, who competes at the novice level in figure skating.

She said the Olympians complimented the club skaters on their skating, stood with them for pictures and autographed their skating bags.

Sunday's skate won't be Larissa's last chance under the Olympic spotlight. She will be working as a flower retriever during the men's long, ice dance, and pairs skating competitions at Pacific Coliseum during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

She got the job after trying out two years ago and being picked after a practice run for retrievers at the Four Continents Figure Skating championships. She gets to wear a specially-designed dress with the flags of Olympic participants and her job will be to collect the artificial flowers and stuffed animals that people throw on the ice after the competitions.

"It's such a big honour," said Larissa, 12, who is in Grade 7 at Ecole de Pionniers, a francophone school in Port Coquitlam.

dstrandberg@tricitynews.com