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FIRS International Coaches' Seminar

Rome - 16/19 February 2007

A few of my beloved readers might be aware that from Feb. 16 to 19 took place in Rome an international congress for coaches indicted by FIRS and organized by the Italian Federation. Not more than a few, I suspect, since our governing body published the call on its website about a month ago: not enough time to organize a truly international event, but then again... FIRS website historically never was the place to gather fresh news, was it?
But in spite of the rather poor promotion, let me tell you that it was an unmissable event, something rarely instituted in our environment. I’ll try to put together an account of what was said and done in such an important occasion... At least the parts I didn’t miss dealing with the “cultural affairs” that usually monopolize my attention every time I’m in this glorious city. Call it also “duty as a patriot”, if you will.

Arrival

I took the plane from Barcelona with enthusiast and expert Catalonian coach Ana Creix, from Cardedeu Club (see here >>). During the flight we talked about the spanish situation in general and the Catalonian in particular. Not much good news on both fronts, I’m afraid. After landing my local “cultural attaché” Raffaella picked us up, we all went for a beer or two, then drove to the Olympic complex Acquacetosa, were the congress would start the next morning. Ana and me had accommodation booked at the complex’ lodge, but after helping her with the luggage, the Spanish lady was somewhat surprised to know that I was not going to spend my nights over there. Sorry ma’am: unavoidable duty call.

First day

I showed up seedy and red eyed, just minutes before the seminar’s opening and in time to collect my briefcase containing the working schedule, a copy of Paolo Marcelloni’s book >>, a pair of DVD’s containing Anyang’s races videos, a pen and a notebook. Seconds later I was disappointed to learn that Mr Carlos Lugea would not be present due to visa problems.

After a few kisses and hugs from people the likes of Maria Laura Orrú, Patrizio Triberio, Ippolito Sanfratello, Giulio Ravasi, Ennio Mumeni, I counted about a hundred people in the hall... But started noticing that there were not as much foreigners as the Italian federation stated on its website. Nevertheless, I was happy to see a young Iranian couple, shy boy and timid girl that had the chance to learn skating with Mr Roberto Perrone a few years back, and now are following his steps as coaches (sorry, didn’t get their names).


The Iranians & Mumeni

Among others, I was pleased to met Mr Tom, aussie-polish good fella with tricky surname and awfully pertinent questions that usually enjoys my articles. I could recognize also Elizabeth Shrenk from Austria, some Germans, a couple of Romanians and another from Croatia, a Finnish guy and a Swiss one. And that’s about it for non-italian coaches, apart from Laure Sintes (the other Spaniard present) and Ricardo Lenis, one of the most prominent Colombian experts that would close the seminar with his presentation.


Spanish Speaking Posse (Ricardo, Ana & Laure)

But an event like this surely must be opened by the Pope himself, none other than Mr Sabatino Aracu. One can’t avoid liking this guy; I really want to be like him when I grow up… Or at least, to walk in his shoes for a while.
These are the highlights of his speech:
● We’re opening today a new phase, in which FIRS, in collaboration with the Italian Federation, will set up the World School of Skating with licensed coaches.
● It is imperative to create new federations, and to help develop existing ones, especially with coaches’s courses
● What we are doing right now goes towards our main objective: to have speedskating in the summer Olympic program.
● We are selling our sport to the IOC members as “athletics at the speed of bicycles”.
● It is our intention to include only track events into Olympics, because although road races are easier to organize, IOC suggested that we need a specific, recognizable venue for our sport.
● I invented marathons. They’re an excellent way of promotion, but it’s not enough to create complete champions: comprehensive training must include bends, that’s why we really need tracks.
● Our sport is growing at the base, but a regression is noticeable in quality.
● New countries should not need 30 years to get to the Colombian level, but only 3, and we all need to help them achieve that.

Following Aracu, CIC’s President Mr Roberto Marotta stepped on the stage. Although another professional politician, one cannot deny his passion for this sport, and most probably he’s not even there for the money. He said more or less all this:
● It is frustrating for me to accept an Olympiad without skating in it. I’ve been dreaming of it since I was an athlete, and I can guarantee that all our efforts are oriented to that goal: Olympic skating.
● What we did in Asia during this last years, we need to do in Africa from now on
● As stated by our President, since we need a unique place dedicated to our races, we decided that the 200 mt flat oval is our best bet.
● It is our intention to standardize all tracks in the world: from now on every major event will take place in homologated tracks, and we will provide the blueprints and technical specifications to whoever plans to build one.

At this point Mr Marotta finalized his speech, so Mr Aracu added that those blueprints and specifications will be available on FIRS' website soon. Mr Marcelloni, acting as the event’s host, asked the public if there were any questions to the big bosses…

Understandably, these guys may be intimidating to most. But yours truly needs something else to be impressed: I raised my hand and was invited to get to the stage to shoot my question. They both know me a bit already, and looked at me expectant, fearing a direct jab. Who am I to let them down?


The Big Bosses

Excuse me, gentlemen, but His Excellency just stated that the tracks’ building plans will be available at the institutional website soon. Does it mean that the material will be accessible at no cost, as opposed to the actual situation in which we are supposed to purchase it at a steep price?
Maybe it was my personal impression, but I really think I caught them with guards down. Aracu and Marotta looked at each other for a moment, then the first one tentatively answered that, “in effect, we need to cover the expenses that the homologation strategy brought, but as soon as they are, the construction plans will be available for free”. Thank you very much, Sir. I’ll be eagerly awaiting that day to erect my own track in the backyard.
Were there any more questions to them? No, there weren’t, so everybody went to lunch. While chatting with Ana outside the congress hall, Mr Aracu came out and approached me. We exchanged polite salutations and I excused myself for being a constant pain in his royal backside. “Oh, don’t worry; we’re on the same boat! Ask whatever you need”, he said. “Well”, I said to him, “you should thank your god that I’m awfully hungry and need to have lunch ASAP, otherwise I swear we would still be in there playing our game”. Before he left, we spoke about this project of his: a brigade of coaches going around the planet spreading the technique word. I like it, Sir. Count me in.
While eating my lunch, some Italians came to say mockingly to me “you’ll never change”, to which I would answer: “Neither will they”.

The first dissertation of the afternoon was authored by Mr Ipolito Sanfratello, many times world champion on in-lines and Olympic gold medalist last year in Turin. He would tell us about his path to Olympic glory, and his difficult transition from in-lines to ice skating, remembering with gratitude his first coach. A debate followed, in which there were many questions about the switch from one sport to the other. His conclusion? “I had to forget all I knew”. We heard that before, right? (If you don’t remember where, take a look here >>)

Following Sanfratello’s story, one of my favourite presentations beforehand: Mr Giulio Ravasi’s “Training diary of two elite sprinters”. This gentleman happens to be training from young age none the less than Marco Falcone and Simone Bellia, both world champions and excellent blokes. Giulio’s presentation was much better than I expected: he clearly and exhaustively explained everything he did to get those guys performing at the top level; knowing him I can assure he kept nothing for himself. It would take me a whole book to write about his work, so allow me to condensate just some highlights of his method:
● Technique work must be predominant with youngsters
● My athletes must master skating in all types of surface, in every possible condition
● per iodization and specific drills should be personalized for every athlete
● Double-push can be better taught downhill
● We must encourage all coaches to exchange this type of information

But it was rather disturbing to find out that in his group several young athletes presented nasty pathologies associated to speedskating (or rather, bad boots). He and his medical staff promised a study about the causes and remedies.

As a closure for the day, instead of Lugea’s dissertation we had to endure a lesson about motivation from a psychological point of view, given by a very attractive but slightly mental lady doctor called Sofia Tavella. I could take a good nap during her speech, but my full attention was directed to her elusive cleavage. When she finished, I had an important question for her: “Doctor… are you married?”. Politicians fainted, coaches laughed, she pleasantly blushed. “Well... that’s an indiscrete question…”, she said.
Oh, let me assure you that’s purely out of professional curiosity”, I said with my best po-face.
She smiled and said “No, I’m not”. “Good”, was my answer, “I take note”. Then the session was over, and while I was in the crowd waiting for a chance to request her phone number, my mobile ringed instead. The “cultural attaché” was at the door, requiring my presence at once, ready and eager to return to our intellectual activities in the Old Empire’s Capital.

Second day

This time I was even late: Mr Claudio Giorgi was already speaking when I sat down my aching ass. Now, Mr Giorgi is a scientist, one of those coaches that love number-crunching and formulae when it comes to training. Those passions for mathematics lead him to abandon coaching entirely and produce some of the most revolutionary, original and fascinating works our skating world has ever seen… sadly, only in Italian. His speech was dedicated to the influence aerodynamics, wheels and frames have on the athlete’s performance. Boy, did he deliver! Here are some of his observations:
● During a start sprint, there is no noticeable difference between 90mm and 100mm wheels
● The info that wheel manufacturers give with their products is incomplete and misleading. First of all, the “shore A” scale is inadequate because currently produced wheels are too near the durometer limit (we should use “shore B” instead), moreover we should have elasticity/rebound measures too.
● Wheels and frames are only about 15% of the problem: we need to learn much more about aerodynamics.
● It is a physical fact that bigger wheels will be faster than smaller ones, but before happily increase their diameter in production, we should ask ourselves if that’s going to be an asset for our athlete’s security…

By the end of Giorgi’s presentation, we all were almost expecting the intervention of Dr. Claudio Marini, a physiologist from the Italian School of Sports that worked for decades with a long list of world class athletes of almost every sport. Dr. Marini has a close relationship with the Italian federation, and from the beginning of the seminar he was posing very intelligent questions or placed doubts about what was said by the experts. He can certainly afford that, and an interesting debate arises every time he speaks.


Oh yes, Doctor

Next came Marcelloni’s exhibit, focused on the difficult passage between elite junior to senior level. He insisted on stating that even at world champs level one can observe gross or wrong technical executions in top-class athletes. In his point of view, coaches are not properly working the technique aspects, and in general clubs and federations are not paying enough attention to the junior ranks. Particularly, he hates the fact that youngsters have to suffer pathologies like the ones noted by Ravasi, mainly because the basic teaching is not done correctly, and materials not appropriately used. On a different subject, he stated that “technique is better taught on flat tracks with good grip”, and that is preferable to teach first the basic movement to the young skater, before showing him a video of its appropriate execution.


After lunch, it was Maurizio Lollobrigida’s turn. I had the honour to race against him sometimes in the eighties (when I was a junior and he was already an aging world champ). Now one of the Italian National Team trainers, his presentation was a little arid but extremely interesting, and gave place to the first real duel of the seminar with Dr. Marini, who didn’t agree with Maurizio’s views about lactate and its metabolization. Guess who won? Anyway, here are some of Lollobrigida’s beliefs:
● We as coaches are artists, and the athletes are our canvass that will become a work of art in time
● A thing that cannot be left out of any training session: ANTICIPATION. We need to train in race conditions often so athletes develop the necessary anticipation (of movement, sight and intelligence)
● Another thing not to avoid: de-fatigue. Every training session must end with a de-fatigue work in order to metabolize better the lactate produced, debris that can be recycled as fuel by the system (proved by statistical data taken from many Mader tests to our skaters)
● We have been collecting the lap times of every 10k and 15k in the lasts 3 world championships, and our sessions are worked around those times.

The debate that followed Maurizio’s speech had to be interrupted, to make space for the -until recently- absolute mogul of the Italian National Team, Mr Giovanni Martignon. He admittedly knows very little about our sport, so his presentation has no interest for anybody outside the Italian inner circles. They obviously know that, so Dr. Marini was given the chance to expose a comparison of the physiological tests carried to the Italian national teams in 1996 and the current ones. Surprisingly to me, he demonstrated that a decade ago athletes had higher levels of every possible item in their bodies. He concluded that training was harder back then, and perhaps that the athlete’s sample he’s got this time around really didn’t give much of a toss about his tests. Nasty, but most probably true.
He finally proposed to experiment with some new blood and fatigue tests to the italian elite athletes, (something that has been already arranged for next March), and that we all forget about Mader’s test: it should be called “lactate measurement” because in our case is not exactly a Mader, as in athletics. Talking about lingo, he also orders that you should not say “anaerobic”, but “O2 independent”. I asked him if there really is a specific metabolic test for our sport. “Not yet”, he said, “we’re working on it though, and I expect you could come up with one sooner or later”. As long as it involves sex or beer, I might even succeed, dear Doctor…

The bar was raised even more by then, as it was Dr Angelo Lombardi’s turn to reveal his ideas about “Analysis and training indications after Conconi’s and other field tests”. Dr Lombardi is an extensively experienced coach at the top levels, and a physiotherapist as well. He employs a set of complete field tests 3 to 4 times during a season: with limited resources he has to be creative, especially when it comes to test materials.
Regarding physiological data, he wants his athletes to know in any given moment their own resting cardiac pulse, differential pressure (50-55 min / 110 max is good for him) and weight. He also requires blood tests often, say one every 30 to 40 days, in order to regularly check Hemoglobin, CPK (Creatin-Phospate) and Hepatic Enzimes levels.
When he finished talking, Dr Marini turned and asked me “Hey! Where is the deflection point in those curves?” In fact, there was no deflection in most of the statistic function graphics showing the relation between speed and lactate threshold or the maximum heart pulse. Ups! What followed was a fervent discussion between the two doctors: Lombardi justified his data by stating that the deflection point was exactly where the athletes told him it was, Marini was not happy about it. As a matter of fact, although the graphic may had served its practical purpose, as a statistic function it wasn’t correct. An Italian coach felt he should defend Lombardi’s work with a rhetoric intervention, and I was disappointed to see that many colleagues nodded approving this. But to my relief, the responsible of all Italian federal coaches took the mike to affirm that “we need to work with science, not against it. It’s time to stop the inaccurate work we have been doing up to this moment, and I’m happy to have somebody like Dr Marini who disagrees with our solid… and mostly wrong traditions and beliefs. By the way, I'd like to announce that we have commissioned several prestigious universities to conduct investigative works about materials: results will be published as soon as they become available”. Amen to that, sir.

The afternoon was so fruitful that most of us didn’t notice that there were no breaks, and the last exposition was almost an hour delayed. Its presenter was Mr Ennio Mumeni, the Italian senior national team coach, excellent boot maker, veteran skater (I raced with this guy too… Boy, am I old!). Ennio put in plain words all that we need to know about frames, boots and wheels, and their interactions. His advice?
● Do not use anodized frames for elite racing: the molecular properties of aluminium are altered by this process.
● If you have been using a custom boot that fits perfectly for years, do not change it: throw away the ruined layer and put on a new leather exterior around the same carbon shell.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t finish listening to Mumeni’s excellent speech because my phone was ringing. Raffaella reminded me it was time to perform some urgent physiological tests. You know the motto: when in Rome, do as Romans do.

Third day

The symposium was to be concluded by my good friend, the notorious Colombian coach Ricardo Lenis. He was there to speak about his nation’s methodology, planning and organization… but I was absent to hear all that. Sorry, couldn’t make it this time. I’m only human, you know? And not even a respectable one, for that.
Besides, a man can’t live only from skating, right?

Your hostess tonight: Raffaella

M. Bresin
©Speedsk8rs.com

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Published material

Most of the presentations (Powerpoint) are available to download at the Italian federation website >>
(In italian - See "CORSO INTERNAZIONALE 2007" table) 


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