It was an off year for inline speed skating. The World Inline Cup was diminished. And the World Championships were soggy.
But with that in mind, here goes, starting, this week, with the men:
1) Bart Swings (Belgium)
Swings was consistent throughout the year. He won marathons, European championships and two world titles. And he mixed in a successful season on long-track ice. For several years now, he has been top of the class, regardless of what team he’s on or what wheels he’s using. Years ago, I predicted he would be the next Willy Raes, a legendary Belgian skater who won several 20,000-meter world titles in the 1980s. Swings has exceeded my high expectations.
2) Peter Michael (New Zealand)
Racing without support at the World Championships, Michael took on the best and, with brilliant moves, won the 15,000-meter elimination and finished third in the 10,000 meters on track. Then in his first attempt at the 1000 meters, he defeated the Colombian favorites Munoz and Causil. A week later, he won a FIC marathon in Lyon. Next, he finished fourth in the big Berlin Marathon against huge odds.
3) Ewan Fernandez (France)
Fernandez could always talk the talk. But this year, he actually walked the talk, winning his first title (10,000-meter points) at the World Championships. He also had a good marathon season. My informants tell me he is the toughest guy to go one on one with.
4) Joseba Fernandez (Spain)
Fernandez was a hit man in 2012. He prepared specifically for one race: the 200-meter time-trial on the road. And he won it emphatically, setting a new world record (15.879 seconds). Aside from being a great competitor, he’s also quiet and likable.
5) Fabio Francolini (Italy)
The pressure was on Francolini to deliver for the home team at the 2012 World Championships, especially after Peter Michael grabbed the 15,000-meter track title. Francolini responded by winning the 10,000-meter points-elimination in an epic struggle with Swings, Michael & the French pair of Fernandez and Contin.
6) Andres Munoz (Colombia)
For years, Munoz has been a world champion and top skater. The Colombians can always call on him to perform when teammates have let them down. For Munoz, it was a relatively quiet year, but he still managed a world championship in the 500 meters on the track.
7) Yann Guyader (France)
The competition was not so fierce this year in the watered down World Inline Cup. But Guyader kept his focus, winning races and claiming the individual men’s title.
8) Michel Mulder (Holland)
The big guy proved that it’s possible to be both a long-track ice champ and a world speed champ (500 meter - track) in the same year. Coach Desly Hill always believed Mulder could win a big one and he gave them their first gold in 20 years. A great effort and a great guy.
9) Alexis Contin (France)
Contin is another to prove the Dutch ice experts wrong. They say a skater can’t do well on ice and inline in the same season. Contin came back fresh from the ice and was a consistent workhorse on wheels. He remains one of the world’s most respected inliners.
10) Leon Alfredo Moreno (Venezuela)
Moreno had a good season in Europe, where he won several minor races. The big Venezuelan was the wild card for a quiet year.