A BRITISH figure skating champion will be behind a display by talented youngsters to mark the start of a week-long ice rink at Stretford Mall.

The environmentally friendly, synthetic rink at Stretford Mall will be in place for the half term holiday, February 18-24, from 11 am to 4 pm and is free to all users.

For the fanfare launch on Monday (Feb 18), budding young stars from the Altrincham Silver Blades ice rink will be there to delight shoppers by going through the stylish paces they have learned under the expert eye of their head coach, Jake Bennett.

Stretford and Urmston MP Kate Green will also be on hand shortly before the performance to officially open the rink at 10.45 am.

Colin McCrory, Stretford Mall Manager, said: “The ice rink is back by popular demand because it was a big hit with families last year.

“We are always keen to put on free activities during the school holidays to help parents and entertain our young shoppers. “We are very privileged to have Jake and his young team down to help us officially launch the ice rink and to also welcome MP Kate Green to cut the ribbon.”

Jake, 26, was well on the way to a place in the Winter Olympics when a serious injury prematurely ended his competition days.

But that wasn’t before he had become British figure skating champion on three separate occasions.

Jake, who is originally from Plymouth, played a lot of sport at school and easily made the transition from field hockey to ice hockey at the age of 10.

A year later he used the skill he had acquired on the ice to try figure skating.

He loved it and never looked back.

Jake recalled: “It appealed to me right away because of all the movement involved, like spinning and jumping in the air.

“I was so hooked on it that at the age of 14 the family moved to Swindon so that I could start serious training at the rink in the local leisure centre.

“After a couple of years, the family moved again to Blackburn where I was training on the local ice rink 30 hours a week.

“I did that for five or six years and when I left school at 16 I got a series of part-time jobs to supplement the official sports funding I was receiving. I worked in a call centre and did all sorts of other things to make ends meet.”

He added: “I skated for Great Britain for five years, and took part in a number of national and international competitions.

“I was three times British figure skating champion, in the years 2004, 2005 and 2007, and at one time I was ranked at number 32 in the world.

“In the competitions I took part in abroad, in countries like Slovakia, Croatia and Germany, I got lots of fourth or fifth places.

“I just lived for skating but all that changed in 2006 when I had a serious accident on the ice in which I badly injured my shoulder and chest.

"I had keyhole surgery to put right the damage and kept on competing but I never fully recovered and decided to give up competitive skating.

“I might have gone on to a place in the Great Britain team at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver but my retirement meant I didn’t manage to make it.

“It was a blow at the time but I’m happy with the way things have turned out.”

Jake became head coach at Silver Blades in Altrincham in April last year – helped by his 24-year-old wife Jessica who is also a qualified coach.

They coach youngsters in the Great Britain development squad aged from eight to 12 and also tutor children generally from the age of four upwards.

Coaching sessions for the more advanced young skaters can start as early as 6am, so Jake and Jessica are constantly busy.

However, they still find time to take their 20-month-old daughter Zara out on the ice and they are hoping it will be the same story with the baby Jessica is expecting in June.

Jake said: “Zara has been skating since she was just 18 months old and she really loves it. Like her mum and I she loves the music and all the movement involved.

“It’s great to see children at home on the ice, which is why I am looking forward to the demonstration I have arranged on the rink at Stretford Mall.

“They’ll be doing the spins and spirals I have taught them at Silver Blades and I know they are all looking forward to it very much, just as I am.”

One of the talented young figure skaters taking part in the demo will be 11-year-old Oliver Gibson, a year seven pupil at Altrincham Grammar School for Boys, who has been coached by Jake for the past three months.

His proud mum, Cathie Gibson, recalled that he first tried skating at the age of four after going to the Altrincham rink with his brother Stuart, now 17.

She said: “Oliver took to it right away but Stuart wasn’t really taken with it.

“It has become a real passion for him and he now trains three times a week, sometimes starting at 6am, which shows his dedication. It also shows mine because I take him!

“He has been skating competitively for a few years and goes all around the country where he has won a number of trophies and cups in individual events.

“He also takes part in pairs competitions with one of the other young people from Silver Blades, Amelia Darling. Together they have also done quite well.

“I know he’s looking forward to skating at Stretford Mall because he just loves being on the ice.” A

lan Darling, Amelia’s father, said: “She has been skating for the past six years and is coached by Jake at Altrincham.

"She has three lessons a week and a couple of those start at 6am.

“I admire her for doing all that alongside her schoolwork at Altrincham Grammar School for Girls where she is in year seven.

“She has done quite well in individual competitions and also skating with Oliver, which she has done for the past 12 months.

“I’m very proud of her and can’t wait to see her skating on the rink at the Stretford Mall, which I know she is looking forward to very much as all the kids are.”