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Ask Bill Begg!

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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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July 29, 2009

What's the Current State of Inline Skating?

QHi, Bill: Given your extensive world travel this year, I was wondering if you could share your insights on the current state of inline skating? Yours, Robert in California

Hi, Robert. Glad you asked. The reason I'm traveling so much this year is to try to do something about our sport. The truth is it's not growing the way it should. It's up in some countries but down in others.

In Europe, we've seen some growth: for instance, in Holland, where inline is seen as an aid to ice speed skating, and in Germany, where the number of master skaters is increasing.

But scheduling clashes hurt this year's Swiss Inline Cup — and to some extent, the entire World Cup. Love him or leave him, World Cup founder Coni Altherr's departure left a hole — and it's not clear that the gap can be filled.

Things are mixed in the Americas, where there are fewer skaters in the USA, according to the latest figures, but more in some countries, including Venezuela and, especially, Colombia.

In this tough economy, the skate companies are struggling to continue their support for the World Inline Cup. In recent years, it has cost about a quarter-million dollars to field a winning team — and that has proved too much for the likes of Hyper, Verducci, Salomon and Fila. At this point, Rollerblade is just hanging in there. And Bont — after years of six figure World Cup support — is downsizing its commitment.

Everyone is suffering. But skating is like an ocean with its ups and downs. We're in a trough right now, but hopefully we can catch a big wave back to shore.

On the bright side, I'm optimistic about our chances for Olympic entry, especially after attending the World Games in Kaohsiung. Inline speed skaters were the local heroes of the event, racking up gold medals and media attention (even as some current world champions from Europe and the Americas failed to medal).

China Taipae's Huang Yu-ting won three gold medals, earning herself $212,000 (US) — a fact that was widely reported by the local media. This created a buzz, which flooded local skate coaches with enquires from interested parents and skaters.

The media attention at the World Games was intense. There were so many cameras around that you could barely get away from the skate venue. And the faces of speed skaters were plastered all over TV and the newspapers.

My daughter, Nicole, was on the front page of two Asian newspapers one day and on the front page of our hometown newspaper in New Zealand the next. She has interviews scheduled with two TV shows when she returns to Timaru.

After experiencing all this, I would say we have more than a chance of getting into the Olympics. But I have to add that at this point, the Olympics may be doing more harm than good for our sport, at least in the USA, where many of the top skaters are moving to ice.

For proof of this, look no further than the roster of the U.S. world team. ... Who are these skaters? Nobody knows.

The U.S. used to have great depth. But now its roster is growing thin.

Skaters like Josh Wood used to be the backbone of U.S. inline skating. But where is he this year? ... On ice.

And he is only one example. It's the same story with Jessica Smith, Jordan Nelson, Kimberly Derrick and several others. No one can blame them for moving to ice. But we can't afford to lose so many.

I have devoted much of this year to developing the Asianic Inline Cup (AIC), and I can tell you that things are progressing faster than expected. Next year, we will have 25 to 30 AIC events in ten countries (starting in Australia and New Zealand in January). We are planning for success with a complete package that includes strong coaching support and some very enthusiastic partners.

Cheers, Bill

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