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World renowned speed coach Bill Begg shares his vast knowledge of skating every week in his "Ask Bill Begg!" column on the Inline Planet.

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Oct. 20, 2010

Preview of the 2010 World Championships

Q[Editor's note: We hijacked this week's column to ask Bill to tell us what to look for at the 2010 World Speed Skating Championships, which start Thursday in Guarne, Colombia.]

It’s shaping up to be a different kind of Worlds this year. For starters, there’s the altitude. Host city Guarne is 2150 meters (7000 feet) above sea level.

Then there’s the track. It’s narrower than most and it doesn’t have the usual Vesmaco coating, which is applied to make tracks fast and sticky.

But the biggest difference this year is the late date. Typically, the championships are in late summer. But this year, the country that originally signed to host the event (Venezuela) changed its mind at the last minute. That left the skate federation scrambling for a new venue. And by the time one was found, Worlds had to be pushed back to late October to give Colombian officials time to prepare the Guarne track and road course.

The new schedule (Oct. 21-30) pushed Worlds up against the Asian Games, which start on Nov. 12th in Guangzhou, China. As a result, many of the top Asian skaters are taking a pass on Worlds to make sure they are rested for Asian Games.

And who can blame them? Winning a gold medal in the Asian Games, the world’s second largest sporting event, can mean a lifetime of financial support and exempt an athlete from military service.

The absence of top Asian skaters will strengthen the position of host nation Colombia, which has a lot going for it this year. Aside from home-field advantage, they have their favorite coach, Elias De Valle, back at the helm.

Andres Munoz and Diego Rosero will lead the Colombian men’s team. Pedro Causil did not make the team and may be missed. I suspect that he would have excelled on the tight track and road circuit.

The Colombians will face some very strong competition from the U.S. superstar Joey Mantia, indisputably the world’s best skater.

Another skater who could challenge the Colombians is Belgium’s Bart Swings, who has been skating brilliantly this year.

It’s hard to tell who’s going to do well in the sprints in Guarne. The road and track may be unsuitable for the Belgian gold medalist Wouter Hebbrecht. And New Zealand’s Kalon Dobbin is coming off an injury. Add to that the absence of the top Korean and Taipei skaters, and you have a situation where the nimble-footed French sprinters may have their best chance in years.

As for the women, Colombia’s Jersey Puello will be hard to beat in the sprints. But Italy’s Erika Zanetti may challenge her. Zanetti revitalized her career this year and has toughened up mentally.

Korea’s Woo Hyo Sook, winner of the points-elimination race at the last three World Championships, won’t be in Guarne. That opens up the field for three former winners of the event — Itay’s Simona Di Eugeno, New Zealand’s Nicole Begg and Colombia’s Alexandra Vivas.

The Colombian women look strong, led by veteran champions Bridgette Mendez and Kelly Martinez. Included in their squad is former junior world distance champion Catherine Penan, who is making a comeback this year after leaving skating to become a mom.

Two women who may be able to keep the Colombians from dominating are world champions Laura Lardarni of Italy and Sabine Berg of Germany.

There are lots of question marks this year. But one thing for sure, it’s going to be interesting.

Cheers, Bill

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