As creator of the Champions On Ice tour, Tom Collins remains bullish on figure skating. But the Twin Cities promoter confirmed Monday that the Champions tour is likely to combine with rival tour Stars On Ice.

Skating's once-soaring TV ratings have declined in recent years, as has attendance at events. Given the current state of the sport, Collins said, one tour makes more sense. The longtime skating promoter, who started as a performer and has spent more than 50 years in the sport, was at Xcel Energy Center on Monday for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

"I think we'll end up combining the shows," said Collins, who sold the Champions tour to Anschutz Entertainment Group two years ago but remains involved as president. "I think we'll do far better with having one show, because there's not that much talent out there any more. Two shows is a little too much at this time."

The current Stars On Ice show is headlined by 2006 Olympic silver medalist Sasha Cohen and is scheduled to visit Xcel on Feb. 26. Champions On Ice has yet to announce a 2008 schedule.

Collins and his family are among the sponsors of this week's nationals. He said the Champions tour remains a part of him, even after its sale.

"In 40 years, I had some great moments," he said. "We had phenomenal tours with phenomenal talent. I'll always be involved. It's been my life."

Hip, hip, hooray

Back when Naomi Nari Nam was a 13-year-old skating phenom, she used to be conscious of being the youngest person on the ice. Monday, she was among the oldest of the pairs skaters practicing at Pleasant Arena -- and she had the major hip surgery to prove it.

Nam, 22, and partner Themi Leftheris missed the Grand Prix season while she recovered from her August surgery. She still is not at full strength; they began doing triple jumps only a few weeks ago, and they scaled back some of the more difficult elements of their programs. Considering she was on crutches into October, they aren't complaining.

"We really are grateful to be where we are in our skating and to be here, because of the surgery," said Nam, who partnered with Leftheris for a bronze at last year's nationals and was the women's silver medalist in 1999. "As much as we kept saying, 'We're going to go for it,' we still are really happy to be here."

Defending champions Brooke Castile and Ben Okolski skipped the Monday session, the first official practices for senior-level skaters, but Castile said her foot injury has healed. They also missed the Grand Prix circuit and will debut two new programs when the pairs competition begins Wednesday.

Back to the future

When Rohene Ward reverts from coach to competitor later this week, he also will change his short program. Ward, of Minneapolis, will skate Friday's men's short program to "Eleonore," which he used in competition last year. He had been skating to "The Messiah Will Come Again," the short program he performed in 2004-05 and 2005-06.

It's rare, and perhaps risky, for a skater to make such a shift heading into an important event. "I needed a change," Ward said. "I think this program is a little more special, a little more complete."

Ward will coach Kirsten Olson in tonight's women's free skate, then have his first official practice Wednesday.