Fewer Countries This Year at the World Championships, But All the Heavy Hitters Are Ready to Race
The Inline World Championships aren't the Inline World Championships anymore. They've undergone a name change.
This year, they are the World Speed Skating Championships ... or, if you prefer, the World Senior and Junior Track and Road Speed Skating Championships for Men and Ladies.
I kinda like it!
Usually, the phrase "speed skating championships" is reserved for ice events. But why should ice skaters monopolize the name?
Inline racers have just as much right to the word "speed" as their more illustrious cousins on ice (most of whom are former inline skaters, themselves.)
But no matter what you call them, the World Speed Skating Championships started today in Suzhou (pronounced Sue-Joe), China, with opening ceremonies.
You might think that the World Championships would be bigger than ever as a result of the attention the sport earned this year as a candidate for the Summer Olympics.
But no ... they've shrunk, considerably -- apparently as a result of their location half way around the world from Europe, the center of inline racing.
Last year, 44 countries showed up in Italy to contest the World Championships (which Colombia won).
But at last count, only 30 countries had appeared this week in Suzhou.
Many of the absentee countries are European, among them: Austria, Czech Republic, Croatia and Poland, all of whom had teams in Italy.
The number of Latin and African countries has also declined. Among the no-shows this year are: Ecuador, Cuba, Brazil, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nigeria and Kenya.
Nonetheless, all continents are represented. Even Africa is sending two countries: South Africa and Egypt.
Holding the championships in Asia was expected to increase Asian participation. But so far, that hasn't happened.
The number of Asian teams held steady this year at five: China, Taipei, India, Japan and South Korea.
But though global participation is spotty, all the top speed skating countries are there with big and powerful teams.
Could Colombia Win Again?
Colombia is expected to finish at or near the top, just as it did in last month's World Games in Germany.
Team Florida coach Renee Hildebrand says the reason for this is that the Colombian team has great depth. As evidence of the teams strength, she noted that Hyper's Celilia Baena failed to make the team this year, despite competing in the tryouts.
Italy is always strong, but it not clear how it will fare without its top three road skaters: Maximilliano and Luca Presti and Luca Saggiorato, who are all absent from the roster this year.
The French team looks powerful. It includes Alexis Contin, Pascal Briand, Thomas Boucher and Nathalie Barbotin, all top skaters on the World Inline Cup curcuit.
New Zealand will be strong with Kalon Dobbin, who won two golds and two silvers at the World Games, and his brother Shane, who is always strong in the longer distances.
What About the USA?
The United States is a question mark?
The team has two oustanding skaters -- senior man Joey Mantia and junior woman Brittany Bowe -- but much of the rest of the team is young and untested.
Last year, Bowe won the junior women's 300 meters with a time that was two-tenths of a second faster than the winning time for the senior women.
At the time, she was 16.
She considered moving up to the senior division this year, although she is still only 17. But she decided against it after devoting a large chunk of the year to her other favorite sport, basketball.
Mantia won seven medals at last year's World Championships, but it is not clear whether he has fully recovered from the mononucleosis that kept him from the U.S. training camp early this month.
However, reports out of Suzhou, where the U.S. team has been training this week, are that both Bowe and Mantia are in top form.
(posted on Aug. 25, 2005)
Copyright © 2005 by Robert Burnson
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