Young Detroit skaters put new faces on ice in national championship

It's been 25 years since the U.S. Figure Skating Championships were in Detroit, but they're back -- and two metro Detroit ice dancers are hoping to bring the medal home.

Gabriel Francis and Kristina Bland are changing the face of figure skating. The Latio and African-American dance team have already brought home bronze medals when they competed as juveniles at nationals in 2018. Now, they're inspiring other kids who look like them by encouraging children of color to embrace a sport long lacking in diversity.

"I'm just proud to be an inspiration for someone else or like a kid of color or small child thinks 'I can never ice skate' because they've never seen anyone who looks like us ice skate and they see us and they think, 'I can compete and I can be an ice skater,'" Kristina said.

Kristina and Gabe are just 14 and 15 years old but they've been skating together for three years. Kristina first saw the sport on TV as a child, and Gabe tried skating at Campus Martius with his mom and wanted more.

"I thought he'll do it for a few years and get some exercise but he was passionate about it and couldn't get enough," Amy Francis, Gabe's mom, said.

"I'm not a skater. No one in my family is a figure skater so for Kristina wanting to do that, I had no idea anything about figure skating," Kim Brand, Kristina's mom, said.

Now the two kids from Southfield and Lathrup Village are living it and have a chance to compete for the US Figure Skating Championships in Detroit this weekend.

Igor Shpilband, their Olympic ice dancing coach, is thrilled to have eight teams competing over the next few days but he's especially excited for what the future will bring to Gabe and Kristina.

"We have - like -  a lot of medal contenders and we'll try to keep some medals here in Detroit," he said. "I think they're progressing well and learning great - they're great kids."

Gabe and Kristina compete at the intermediate level Saturday and Sunday at the Detroit Skating Club. You can also cheer them on at Little Ceasar's Arena next week at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. For more information go here.