I am reading about the bad news about what happened in Weinfelden the last weekend. It was a big pileup, one of the biggest I have heard of. It is also my worst nightmare since it happened to me once and I have never been able to feel comfortable skating in a group again. Even to these days I usually skate at the back of the group all the times or just on my own. You can still fall, of course, but you are not going to be hurt or cause someone to get hurt the way it normally happens when a pileup is involved. However, I have read a lot of comments on many forums (in English and in other languages) and I have heard a lot of blaming. Blaming about the 110mm wheels, blaming about relatively inexperienced skaters, complaining about lack of protections, blaming the organization for this and that reason. My personal opinions are:
- I am not so sure that 110mm wheels are the reason: the overall times in the race are about the same as with 100mm wheels actually, in some cases, slower than those in the days of 84mm wheels. I think that today there is an intense competition with more elite skaters competing for fewer spots with good sponsors and they are taking any risk to achieve something;
- The fall happened in a fast downhill section. Now, I am not sure what speed they were going, but I read even 80km/h or 50 mph! I am not so sure, but in any case those are speeds achieved in pure downhill events and those guys wear proper gear, i.e. motorcycle gear. Is it really speedskating business going that fast knowing that we do not wear sufficient protections and that consequences from a fall could be extremely severe?
- Organizations are blamed if they do not grow the sport. Then they get blamed if there are too many skaters involved or if several are inexperienced. It seems a case of damned if you do, damned if you don't. It is already chaos in our marathons when you get to skate in the fitness or advanced groups. I remember my Saint Paul 2004 (fitness). I cannot even count the times I contacted my skates with others or was on the receiving side of a push. And by comparison we were going like snails. The only alternatives I see are: individual or team time trails. I would like that very much, but that is just me. I am sure that there are those who think that the normal format is the most spectacular.
- I keep reading that we do not have enough protections and that is true. A skinsuit is not going to save your skin, our helmets are not going to save our faces if we go down with our heads and the little plastic on the palm of our gloves will do but little to help us. Yet, there is no rule that prevents CIC/FIRS to adopt heavier protections for skaters. For example, more kevlar rather than lycra/spandex would save lots of skin to start with. Some well conceived padding may help as well. If we all wore heavier protections we would still be all on the same level in my opinion. I wrote the same thing on an Italian forum and someone there attacked me in a bad way telling me that I was an idiot and that skaters are so brave and dedicated that they accept a "murderous" (his words, not mine) organization of the events just to stay at the top of their game. This makes no sense to me at all. I played football and, sure, I would be faster without the pads, but only the Incredible Hulk or an immense idiot would try playing without! It seems to me that skating is like the football in the 20's and 30's where players were heavily undergeared. They realized it, they did something about it. And 350lbs guys do sweat.. even when they are standing still often... so I do not think that we can just say that skaters cannot use heavier protections because they would sweat too much... Sure, I do not expect the extra protection to solve all our problems, not at all. But, if many complain that we take risks with less than ideal protections, I do believe that we can do something about it to improve, maybe just a little bit, the situation. Cycling has suffered deaths going downhill. I am afraid that inline will too if what happened in Weinfelden becomes more common occurence;
- I have heard several competent people complaining about the current situation and for different reasons. But, I have not heard anybody complaining loud enough or strong enough to induce changes. This puzzled me more than a bit. Does it mean that "yes, it is too bad what is happening, but we cannot do anything about it?" Then complaining is useless.