(11/9/04) - With the first of three sectional championships taking place this weekend in Escondido, Calif., the road to Portland and the State Farm U.S. Figure Skating Championships moves on to its second stage. The 2005 Pacific Coast Sectional Championships take place Nov. 10-13 with the top four finishers in ladies, men's, pairs and ice dancing moving on to the U.S. Championships. All skaters competing in Escondido qualified by placing in the top four at their regional championships, with the exception of junior and senior pairs and dance teams, which receive an automatic bye straight to sectionals, as well as those who received byes due to international assignments.

The other two sectional championships will take place next weekend and will also send the top four finishers in each discipline to the U.S. Championships. Those events are the Eastern Sectional Championships in Boxborough, Mass., and the Midwestern Sectional Championships in Fargo, N.D.

Skaters may also qualify to compete at the U.S. Championships by receiving a "bye." A bye may be earned either by placing in the top five at the U.S. Championships during the previous year, by medaling at the most recent Olympic Winter Games, by medaling at the most recent World Championships or by competing at an international competition that coincides with the sectional championships.

The U.S. Figure Skating Championships, held since 1914, is the nation's most prestigious figure skating event. The competition crowns a total of 12 "national champions" in ladies and men's singles, pairs and ice dancing in each of the championship (senior), junior and novice divisions. In addition, the U.S. Championships serve to select the 2004 U.S. World Team, 2004 U.S. World Junior Team and the athletes who will compete at the 2004 Four Continents Championships.

Top athletes receiving a bye and anticipated to compete at the U.S. Championships include: five-time World and eight-time U.S. champion Michelle Kwan (Manhattan Beach, Calif.); 2004 World silver medalist Sasha Cohen (New York, N.Y.); 2004 U.S. champion Johnny Weir (Newark, Del.); 2004 U.S. silver medalist Michael Weiss (McLean, Va.); 2003 silver medalist at both the World and U.S. Championships Timothy Goebel (Rolling Meadows, Ill.); 2004 U.S. pairs champions Rena Inoue (Santa Monica, Calif.) & John Baldwin (Santa Monica, Calif.); and 2004 U.S. ice dancing champions Tanith Belbin (Kirkland, Quebec, Canada) & Ben Agosto (Chicago, Ill.).

2005 Sectional Championships

Nov. 10-13 - 2005 Pacific Coast Sectional, Escondido, Calif.
Nov. 18-20 - 2005 Eastern Sectional, Boxborough, Mass.
Nov. 18-20 - 2005 Midwestern Sectional, Fargo, N.D.

2005 State Farm U.S. Figure Skating Championships
Jan. 9-16 - Portland, Ore. (novice, junior & senior)