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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.

Find out more about Bill Begg and his column.

Aug. 15, 2007

Editor's Note: We commandeered this week's column to ask Bill to give us a preview of the 2007 World Speed Skating Championships, which begin Friday in Cali, Colombia. Who better than Bill to write the preview! He's been a regular fixture at Worlds for the last 30 years.

2007 Worlds Championships
Can anyone challenge the 'Red Machine' on its home turf?

By Bill Begg

The talk last year in Korea was, "Hell, it's a waste of time going to Colombia in 2007. We will not have a chance of beating the Colombians, particularly in the ladies events."

But with some recent happenings, the mighty Red Machine does not look quite so invincible. In fact, the senior men may have a hard time winning a gold medal this year. Their only hope is Jorge Luis Cifuentes.

Cifuentes is a very skilled, quick and smart racer, but he is young (20) and now, with the unfortunate withdrawal of Colombian legend Diego Rosero, he is under immense pressure to perform.

Colombia will adjust its strategy to try to negate the great all-around skaters like Joey Mantia (USA) and Kalon Dobbin (New Zealand). But it will be difficult. Cifuentes will be a threat in every distance from 500 meters to marathon. But is he a better "all-arounder" that Mantia? No way!

Men's Sprints

In the men's sprints, Colombia is in trouble. The top contenders appear to be Duggento (Italy), the Dobbin brothers, Hebbrecht (Belgium), Mantia, Luca Presti and Bellia (Italy), Boucher and Despaux (France). This group of great skaters should be more than a match for the Colombian sprinters: Orozco, Saez and Tobon.

Men's Distance

Colombia's prospects look better in the distance events, based on the strength of Cifuentes and Nelson Garzon. But standing in the way is Joey Mantia, and the only way he can be stopped is with disgraceful tactics, like the ones used last year in the 1000 meters. No one wants to see a repeat of that, although some skaters fear that Colombia, on home soil and with obvious political clout, might resort to dirty tricks if things don't go their way.

Individual skaters to look out for in the distance events include the volatile Frenchman Juan Guyader. He is only a step away from Joey Mantia and is eager to add an individual world title to his curriculum vitae.

Another rising talent is Italy's Fabio Francolini, who has proved to be a consistent performer. If his teammates (Amabili, Zangarini and Saggiorato) arrive in good shape and injury-free, Italy will pose a powerful threat.

Another team contending for medals in the distance events will be New Zealand's Shane Dobbin and Scott Arlidge.

Individual skaters to watch are:

  • Paxti Peula, Spain's new distance star. He finished third in the 10,000-meter elimination at the European Championships.
  • Ecuador's Bolanos, another strong contender.

Other countries with strong teams are Argentina, Chile and Venezuela.

All in all, it will be tough going for Colombia in the men's division this year. With the retirement of Jorge Botero, the exclusion of Munoz and the withdrawal of Rosero, the wheels are coming off the big Red Machine.

Women

The women's division is another story. The Colombian women's team is so full of talent and experience that it could, if everything goes its way, sweep the gold and silver medals, leaving only bronze medals for the other nations. (It could do even better if the rules didn't limit countries to two skaters per event.)

Competing for spots on the Colombian team were 11 women who had previously won junior or senior gold medals at Worlds. Colombia selected seven women, three sprinters and four distance skaters, which means that four of its world champions didn't even make the team! (In any other country, a world champion is pretty much guaranteed a spot on the team.)

The Colombian team was hurt earlier this month when Cecilia Baena (in my estimation, the world's top woman skater) suffered a groin injury and had to pull out of competition. But even without Baena, the Colombian women will be hard to beat.

Last year, on Korean soil, they won all but two gold medals. This year, on their home turf, they could be even stronger.

Women's Sprints

In the sprints, the Colombian superstar is Jennifer Caicedo. Caicedo is an amazing sprinter who has made the 500 meters her signature event. She skated one opening 100 meters in an unbelievable 10.142 seconds.

Backing her up in the sprints will be two other talented Colombians: Berenice Moreno and Jercy Puelo.

Brittany Bowe

Who could possibly challenge these sprinters? If anyone, USA's Brittany Bowe. Bowe appears to be back in stride after faltering last year in her first appearance in the senior division. She's big, strong and fast, and she will be skating on a track that the Americans should love.

The Italians

Italy's Falcone and Zanetti are fast, but lack the strength of the Colombians on a big open circuit. However, Italy's Laura Orru could challenge if she can find her top form once again.

Other challengers (those who have won medals in recent years) include Hy Yu Ting (Taipei), Seon (Korea), Nunez and Santibanez (Chile), Gonzales (Argentina), and Begg (New Zealand).

There are more than a few fast female sprinters headed to Cali. But for them, winning gold on Colombian soil will be akin to conquering Everest.

Distance Events

The Colombians didn't dominate the distance events quite as thoroughly as they did the sprints last year. They failed to win the gold in both of the 10,000-meter points races (track and road).

But even with out Cecilia Baena, they have a strong team of proven winners, consisting of Briggitte Mendez, Kelly Martinez, Alexandra Vivas and Liana Holguin.

With a truckload of world titles among them, they make a very tough quartet. If the other women decide to attack in the track events, the large muscle bulk carried by the Colombian women could be a factor.

Challengers

Among the challengers will be Italy's Simona Di Eugenio. A former world champion, she will be looking for redemption after failing, along with the other Italian women, to bring home a medal from last year's Worlds. Di Eugenio skipped the World Inline Cup this year to focus on training for the European and World Championships.

Another contender is Italy's Laura Lardani. Unlike Di Eugenio, she polished her form this year in the World Cup, winning four races so far.

Unfortunately for the Italians, the ailing Giovanna Turchiarelli will be missing from Worlds. She may have been the one Italian with enough strength, power and speed to take on the Colombians in the open spaces.

Nicole Begg

Nicole Begg, the 10,000 pts/elim titleholder (not to mention, my daughter) is likely to be there when it counts. She is a good track skater who possesses both staying power and speed. But skating without teammates will be a disadvantage.

Korea's Hye Mi and Hyo Sook are both successful and experienced veterans of Worlds and can be counted on to attack at midpoints of races.

Silvina Posada, winner last year of the 10,000 points road race, leads the strong Argentinian team, which includes Melissa Bonnet, a gold medalist in 2005, and Nathalie Artero.

Jessica Smith

USA's Jessica Smith could be a contender if she arrives in top form. Last year, skating on wheels that were not suited for the course, she managed to take a bronze in the road elimination.

Chile's junior superstar, Catherine Penan, moves up to the senior division this year. She has talent but it's not clear if she's ready to compete at this level. She may lack that bit of top end speed that is needed to win.

Finally, there's Switzerland's Nadine Gloor. She has won medals before at Worlds and is always in the mix.

Junior Division (under 18)

The Italian and Belgium boys are very strong this year. So are the Dutch. The Chilean, Argentineans and Koreans are typically very competitive. ... We should see some good racing this year.

Girls

In the girl's division, Italy appears to have lifted the bar and should provide the Colombians with a decent challenge.

The USA and Chilean girls will also be in the medal hunt.

...

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