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Racing News ...

Organizer Has Big Plans for Next Year's Athens Twilight Criterium

Saturday's Race Marked the Return of Inline Skating to the Criterium

By Robert "Just the Factoids" Burnson

The marriage of skating and cycling took a hit earlier this year when the organizers of the Downers Grove (Ill.) Criterium announced that they would go skate-less in 2005.

But while Downers Grove abandoned inline skate racing (at least, until 2006), another big cycling-inspired event -- the Athens (Ga.) Twilight Criterium -- decided to give it another try.

And the reunion on Saturday night was apparently a success.

Only a small field of skaters (35) raced in the 10 K inline criterium, which was sandwiched between the event's amateur bicycle finals and handcycle criterium.

But the 40,000 spectators who lined the racecourse didn't seem to mind. They enthusiastically cheered the skaters and after the race asked many of the them for autographs.

Used to being virtually ignored, the skaters were delighted by the attention. "Over 20-30 thousand people screaming for you, it was AWESOME!!!" one skater said on the Hyper forum.

And next year's Athens Criterium, promises to be even better.

For starters, it will most likely be bigger. Participation this year was hurt by a scheduling conflict: the big Disney World Inline Marathon in Florida was set for the morning after the criterium (although foul weather converted the marathon into a fun skate).

Next year, the Athens Criterium is scheduled for the week before the 2006 Disney Marathon. So there should be fewer scheduling conflicts.

Aside from that, some of the skaters who were unhappy about the rain-out of the Disney marathon -- and the lack of a refund -- may choose the criterium next year as a form of protest.

Longer Distance

Aside from a bigger field (and thus a larger purse), next year's race may also be longer.

Organizers are planning to expand it into a half-marathon (21 kilometers) or to convert it into an elimination-type event of 20 minutes plus two laps, says Charlie Bennett of Natural Ability Sports.

Bennett helped Gene Dixon, the founder of the 25-year-old Athens Criterium, organize the inline event.

"This event is what our sport needs ... 40,000-plus spectators, news coverage and corporate sponsors," Bennett says.

In the 1990s, the Athens Criterium was an important part of the U.S. inline racing season.

Although primarily a cycling event, its inline race attracted many of the world's greatest skaters, including Derek Parra, Tony Muse, Jen Rodriguez, Chad Hedrick and Ippo Sanfratello (current coach of Fila International).

But inline racing faded from the criterium and was eventually abandoned.

"My plan is to grow the Twilight back to its legendary status," Bennett says.

(posted May 3, 2005)





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