The Pettit National Ice Center
at State Fair Park in West Allis will host 75 of the world's top speed skaters later this month for what will be the first major international competition held at the facility in 15 years.
The inaugural Four Continents Speed Skating Championships, taking place Jan. 31 through Feb. 2, will
convene male and female speedskaters, including a number of Olympic medalists, from North America, South America, Asia and Oceania.
The competition excludes Europe, which annually holds its own world championships for speed and figure skating.
The three-day Four Continents event is expected to be a sellout, drawing about 1,500 people daily, said Randy Dean, executive director at the Pettit Center.
He said the hope is to level up to the Pettit's last major speedskating event, which was the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, held just one month ahead of the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in South Korea. That six-day event brought daily sellout crowds.
The Pettit anticipates hosting the U.S. Olympic Team Trials again in 2022, Dean said.
"Pettit Center is well known internationally as a speed skating venue, but we haven't done a whole lot in the way of international events in recent years," he said. "It's nice to have the Pettit Center be on the international speed skating radar again."
Some spectators at the upcoming competition could be international visitors and fans following their respective teams along a three-week-long competition circuit, said Dean, which continues with a World Cup event in Calgary, Canada and Single Distance World Championships in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Tickets are on sale for $15 on the Pettit's website. Dean said sales have been steady so far.
As an official U.S. Speedskating and U.S. Olympic training site, the Pettit Center jumps at the chance to hold high-profile national and international competitions, but putting them on is a major investment for the Pettit and has the downside of losing out on another main source of revenue: the public.
"When we host an event like this at the end of January and early February, we have to cancel other (community) events because we have to focus everything on preparation," Dean said.
The Pettit's ice rinks and oval will be closed to the public starting Jan. 26, so staff can resurface the ice, move bleachers and set up for the event. Public skating will reopen on Feb. 3.
"We recognize this is important for our relationship with US. Speedskating, to build the sport of speedskating, to bring attention to Milwaukee both nationally and internationally," said Dean.
Four Continents isn't the only sporting event expected to generate area tourism and put Milwaukee and southeastern Wisconsin in the spotlight this year.
Most notably the 2020 Ryder Cup is taking place in September at Whistling Straits
in Sheboygan County. It will be the first time the biennial men’s golf competition between teams from Europe and the U.S. is held in Wisconsin.
In addition, USA Triathlon will host its annual Age Group National Championships in August along Milwaukee's lakefront, and USA Gymnastics will hold its international 2020 American Cup
in March at Fiserv Forum.