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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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April 15, 2008

A Conversation about Inline Skating and the Growing the Sport

QHi, Bill: I'm a 52-year-old who got into skating because I have four sons and live near a roller rink (Caribbean Rollerama in Melbourne, Australia). I started taking my sons to the rink to get them off computers. Then I caught the bug. Now I skate a marathon each week on paved trails. I’ve found it tremendously good for my overall strength and stamina — and a lot of fun. I was reasonably fit before I started skating, but I have mild chronic fatigue syndrome and very little cartilage left in my knees, so I wonder if my personal triumphs look like small beer to others. Kind regards, Bruce Robertson, Victoria, Australia. (Bruce's questions/comments continue below in red.)

Hi, Bruce: Thanks for the interesting summation of your thoughts. Yes, it's hard to pull today's youth away from computers, video games and the biggest time wasting craze of all time, text messaging.

Years ago, I read a study that commended speed skating as the best sport for developing the strength, co-ordination, fitness and balance needed to be champions in other sports. I know this is true from personal experience, having coached young skaters who collected plenty of school sports awards and who were also very successful in cycling.

I have to commend you, Bruce, on your personal achievements on skates. It sounds to me like your triumphs in the face of adversity are worth a 44 gallon keg of beer! Keep up the good work.

I have a brother (also named Bruce) who was crippled by arthritis after three or four major motorbike crashes. He is now 55, but still races the masters (over 30) New Zealand champs and picks up the odd medal. He also has one leg that is one and a half inches shorter than the other and very badly bowed. But somehow, against all odds, he skates at least 5 or 6 times per week. It's guys like you two Bruces who provide inspiration for the rest of us. ...

Q... It looks to me like there is large and wealthy potential source of skaters in the older community: ex-footballers and miscellaneous old farts. If they get involved, then the kids are likely to follow, though it would be harder the other way round. ...

As far as getting more people skating, one of the models for this is the big marathons in Switzerland, which are truly family affairs. The elite, recreational and young people all skate in the same events, and it's not uncommon to have members of three or four generations skating. ...

Q... I’m full of admiration for your sustained efforts in the sport, and thought I’d just chip in the following idea: To help get this sport more recognition, how about doing some up-to-date analysis on basic stuff like accident rates (which seem pretty low), health benefits (which seem great), and joint impact (which also seems low). I would think this could be done cheaply by students. All that would be needed would be to find some course supervisors (instructors) who were interested! The other thing would of course be to get this material up on to the web. This is a pretty inexpensive sport overall. I’d have thought it would get good support in the current economic climate.

You are right about the relative safety of inline skating for recreational skaters. It is a body- and joint-friendly sport with low impact. But unfortunately, we have seen more accidents among elite skaters since approval for 110mm wheels for international competition and "flat banking" for tracks.

Any solid studies would likely help validate our sport. Some studies have been done. I know because I did some work on the subject when I was the first (and only) Level 3 skating coach in Australia several years ago.

Getting information about skating on the web is what guys like Robert [publisher of the Inline Planet] are trying very hard to do. They are evangelists spreading the word.

Here's some news I hope you will find interesting: It appears likely that Melbourne will host a stage of the Asian Inline Cup around February next year. I am looking after the technical side, which will follow the format of the World Inline Cup, developed by Coni Altherr: elite sport, sport for all, fun and party after. This event is tailor made for people like you who want to challenge themselves to perform the magic marathons.

Cheers, Bill

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