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Junior speed skating championship is NASCAR on ice

Saturday - 1/26/2013, 11:20am  ET

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Speed skaters waiting to compete at the U.S. Speedskating's Junior Nationals competition. (WTOP/Kathy Stewart)
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WASHINGTON - Local speed skating fans have two days left to catch the country's best young short-track skaters. The U.S. Speedskating's Junior Nationals competition began Friday morning at the Prince William Ice Center and runs through Sunday.

"Some people describe it as NASCAR on ice," says Alison Mittelstadt, a skater in the competition.

This year's Junior Nationals competition attracted 61 speed skaters from across the country, ranging in age from 13 to 19. The athletes are battling it out this weekend to be part of the Junior U.S. World Team.

Of the 61 skaters, four males and four females will be selected to continue to compete in Poland with the World Team.

"I really want to get a spot to go to Warsaw with the team," says Thomas Hong, a 15-year-old from Laurel who has been skating since he was about four. "It's fun for us because the speed is so exhilarating."

Salt Lake City speed skating coach Anthony Barthell says watching the competition is like watching future Olympic athletes being born - and Mittelstadt agrees.

"A handful of these (athletes) are so competitive in the national and world level that they've already qualified for the U.S. Olympic trial next December in Salt Lake City," Mittelstadt says.

Julie Chen is attending the competition from Los Angeles with her 16-year-old daughter, Jacqueline Chen. Last year, both of Chen's daughters made the Junior U.S. World Team. This year, her older daughter is on the Senior World Team and her younger daughter is hoping to make the Junior World Team again.

The U.S. Speedskating's Junior Nationals competition will run Saturday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

According to the National Association of Sports Commissions, in 2011, sports tourism visitor spending was at $7.68 billion up $500 million from 2010 but sports tourism is a growing market.

"We recognize the economic benefits competitive sports have on local business," Discover Prince William & Manassas Executive Director Ann Marie Maher says. "With tournaments, come hundreds of visitors eating in our restaurants, shopping in our stores, exploring our attractions and staying in our hotels."

(WTOP's Kathy Stewart contributed to this report) Follow @WTOP on Twitter. (Copyright 2013 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)