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Bill Begg

Probably an All Blacks loss, fortunately an asset to our sport, Mr Begg is one of the best New Zealand export goods. A coaching world authority that does not impress too much at first sight: he looks like one of those flowered-shirted American “baby-boomers” that spend their holidays in Caribbean “all-inclusive” resorts. But make no mistake: his heart is bigger than his tummy, and his ability will turn a jackass into a world champion.

Yeah! Give us more!

Bill was a good racer in his day, and as a coach he managed the national teams of New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Colombia (none the less), and is managing the German one now. On top of that, he coached countless clubs, and currently oversees several WIC teams. No wonder this guy is loved and respected all around the word, and no other coach can boast a curriculum vitae like his.

If that wasn’t enough, he has a family that is entirely devoted to our sport: married with Cheryl, an unforgettable world champion, they spawned two of the best athletes found in the international scene these days. Nicole, only 18, is already a full-time star. Wayne, while not a world champion yet, is a renowned pro with a great future.

Cheryl & Nicole (Wayne too ugly to be pictured here)

This interview wasn’t easy to obtain, as everybody wants a word with Bill, all the time. We managed to snatch him away moments before the Zurich WIC’s race, and made him speak. Mind: that’s not a difficult task… But when you’re fronting the best coach in the world, you better shut up and listen.

Mr Begg: your résumé makes you a very valuable plus for any team, don’t you agree?

Haha! Yeah, probably so. What preoccupies me at the moment is lifting the general standard of this sport worldwide. This last year, aside the WIC and Germany’s national team, I’ve been actively involved in Singapore, Hong Kong, South Africa, England... even some Russians and Estonians came to our sessions. We really need a higher standard in World Champs, not the usual Italians, Americans and French, so I’d like to improve the technical skills of skaters around the world. We need more countries competing at higher levels.
As far as we know, you’re the only one doing this! How come?
I’ve got a passion for skating, but at the beginning as an athlete, one of my problem was that I had no coach. I fell down 20 times in the first 22 New Zealand national championships, everybody laughed at me and nobody taught me. So I’d hate to see young skaters getting the same scars and scratches I got in my legs (he shows a very beaten one) trough lack of valid knowledge available.
Another unique thing of this sport is that even beginner skaters from emerging countries can have a relatively easy access to coaching lessons and training sessions with world class coaches and top athletes.
Some people might think that you’re getting rich with all this coaching around… Please, tell them how things really are.
I’m a poor man! I still owe the bank a lot of money to send my children to world championships: 9000 dollars overdraft. I own no house, no car… except the one I bought here in Switzerland. We don’t own nothing! All I have in terms of value is a lot of knowledge in skating, and a lot of friends.
And the respect and admiration of the skating community…
I try to do things to help people. Those who really know me can tell you that I don’t go chasing dollars. I’ll do the job and then worry about surviving. As long I can survive doing what I like to do, I’m reasonably happy!

Bill's car  ...not that one. This one!  

Some people also think that you’re a terribly tough coach, considering one of your mottos is “train until it hurts, and then some”. Is that true?
It used to be! Now I concentrate in the technical aspects. With “quads”, that motto used to be valid and I caused lots of pain.. but now is the technical expertise what counts the most. I had it proved in my daughter Nicole: although she’s strong (can follow easily the Prestis, Botero et all), she improved exponentially in the last couple of year working on technique, and can attain about 47 km/h.
So: before it was 60% phisycal work, 20% psychological, 20% technique. On inlines, is all about technique: 60%, while it’s 20% psychological + 20% physical. It’s changed completely, because this big skates roll.
I like to be like an orchestra conductor, and a skater has to be like a dancer on his feet, flowing with the rhythm. The secret is: the skate was to work for the skater, not the other way around.

So during a weekly programme you would dedicate, say, ¾ of the work on technique?
Not three quarters, but we need a big emphasis on it. On quads we trained for the sake of it, now we must train with a purpose. Today we observe carefully the body position, and work on six basic principles: the support leg, the push to the side with all the wheels, the knees falling over the toes, the recovery (pushing the toe in) and finally the arms… If they come up to the shoulder swinging too much, you’d use two heartbeats more, so if you’re over your anaerobic threshold… you’ don’t wanna do that!

Oi! Faster, you aussie scum! (Seventies Bill)

Great advice! What can you tell us to improve our double push?
You know, I’m not a coach like Matzger, Publow or those others running around teaching the “double push”. I teach the basic principles, then if you do them correctly and fall properly on your edges, the double push will come automatically to you.
If those guys were teaching the double push right, don’t you think there would be a whole lot of better skaters in Canada or the USA? I guess what they teach is bullshit.
Who’s a good coach, then?
At the end of the day, what must be asked is: Who’s he coaching? Has he brought skaters to a high level? I used to have the chance to coach skaters to world championships in NZ and Australia, now it’s not easy for me to do that since I’m travelling around and supervising many skaters at the same time… But a rule of thumb should be that a good coach should be able to produce good racers.
I’m not going to give names, but some of your athletes complain that you’re a tough coach because you don’t allow any sexual intercourse before races…
Bullshit! Absolute, utter bullshit! The best thing males can do is go at it the night before, and females immediately before the race. In ’81 at Worlds in Belgium, my wife was fuming because she was ripped off by the referees and depressed because her coach would have her seated while choosing another girl to a certain race. So when it was her turn, 20 minutes before the race I took her to the bushes and served her well. She won!
In fact, Russians have that philosophy: they take the athletes’ partners to the Olympic Games to have sex before competitions.

So let me get this straight: for the guys, one before and one after the race?
No! It may be your case, but in general males shouldn’t have sex too close to the competition: we’re no boxers, we don’t need to be too relaxed before racing, as opposed as women. They can have it the same day of the race.

The best half

Ok then: the Zurich race is about to start and I’m going to find a lady that might need my services…
Come on, I’ll take you to my daughter: she needs to win this race!


Note: After finishing the interview, Mrs Begg would stoically ask me: “Whatever he might have said, take out 50% then divide the result by two”.
Note II: In spite of our finest effort, Nicole only got a 3º place that day. Will improve next time.


Luca Saggiorato
Coni Altherr