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The Sk8ologist
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Spanish flies

These days there has been some controversy regarding the Spanish Federation: its denial to compete in national championships to a small group of skaters, its supposed anti-WIC stance, an alleged case of doping… I’ve been witnessing the San Antonio tournament in Pamplona last week-end, and while enjoying the excellent level of racing, I took the time to ask some questions to the key movers in this matter.

51 San Antonio Tournament

First, allow me to do a small recap of this traditional event, most probably the oldest annual contest our sport has: two days of competitions in the same environments that hosted the ’98 Worlds and some European championships. Although as not as rich and competitive as usual, since Colombia and Italy were absent (visas problems for the first, road national champs for the former), the races were incredibly fast this year. The Argentinean team (seen here for the first time in more than a decade) won the general title in both genders and displayed a noticeable superiority, especially in the female field. I bet part of their improvement has something to do with their new coach, Mr. Guillermo Herrero (a friend and old adversary of mine). It was nice to see also the Venezuelan team back on track, now being coached by another old friend and adversary of mine (and almost brother-in-law), the Chilean Pancho Fuentes, the guy who brought Catherine Peñán to world's highest ranks. Portugal is always a respectable ensemble, although they seem to miss something when it comes to top level racing. The French, even if incomplete without some of the big names, proved to be a strong contender, but the real surprise here has Holland. Only a girl was brought to Pamplona, Bianca Rosenboon: she did quite well (even won the time trial in the fabulous covered track in Chantrea), but I was utterly impressed with the boys. These dutch guys certainly have a future in the highest level competition if they keep following this very path, and if the ice-skating managers don’t put an eye on them (something rather impossible). Is it maybe their new coach’s influence? Definitely: when the first day of competitions was over, Mrs Desly Hill said to me "The guys deserve a beer tonight”. Now, at least to my standards, that’s what I call a world class coach! On the opposite side of the happiness spectrum I found Mr. Carlos Lugea, the famous Argentinean coach that manages the Spanish team since last year. He has enough reasons to be worried, as his male sprinters look promising, but the rest of his pool is rather empty. By the way: Mikel Goñi (last year’s junior world champion on TT) was not racing, but Fernando Mejia marked a 25.100 on 300mts (25.080 a week before during national championships) and an upper 16 on 200 mts… watch out for this young Colombian living in Spain: we might be seeing him at the podium next year in Gijón.
Have a look at some of the pictures below. Even if copyrighted by >>, I took those pictures myself for its webmaster Mr Cuco Jimenez, a real racer (unlike some nerds out there that stand as media & sports experts who are not even able to skate). There are many more pictures in Cuco's website, take a look at them.

The facts

During Anyang Worlds, a small scandal was covered. Mr Kepa Caballero roamed through the personal belongings of his roommate Mr Gary Lerga, and found some unknown drugs and some hypodermic needles. As it turns out, Mr Caballero, his girlfriend Sandra Gomez, and their close friend Ronan Sanchez (all of them racing for Powerslide last year) subjected the “evidence” to Mr Carmelo Paniagua, president of the Spanish Federation, and the Spanish delegation highest ranked officials (Mr Lugea, the medical, staff, etc). The officials followed the required protocol that is to immediately seize the incriminating material and to question the suspected athlete. Mr Lerga was obviously allowed to compete for the rest of the tournament, but by then the environment was hostile towards him: his whole team would consider him guilty, unless his innocence was proved upon return to Spain. Back in their country, the protocols were followed again by Spanish authorities, but they went even further this time. Not only the Federation required tests were carried to Gary, but also comprehensive blood tests, proposed by the Spanish National Sports Council, the highest government body aside from the Olympic Committee. The results? Nope, no dope. Gary’s levels were even lower than normal in some measurements. Case solved, Mr Lerga is innocent beyond the slightest doubt, and the documents proving it are of public domain, available to whoever wants to verify them. Gary was taking some perfectly legal drugs due to a medical condition not to be discussed here, and his only mistake was to forget telling the team’s doctor about it. Understandably he’s now very upset for all this mess: his name is being covered by dirt after a long and successful skating career.
Legal action was taken to the three accusers, and a negative outcome for them is easily foreseeable. But the Spanish federation did not sanction them for their behaviour.

So what happened this year? The turmoil started after the designation of the athletes to form the Spanish national team, that will be competing at European & World championships. The three amigos were nowhere to be found in the pre-selection list, and soon after Mr Ramón Basiana, President of the Catalonian Federation, released a statement to the media in which he accuses the Spanish federation to be covering a doping case and to be punishing those who exposed it. Soon after, some Spaniards were posting threads on Bont`s forum >>, accusing the Spanish Federation to play dirty and to be anti-WIC.


It may be the case to remember that the Catalonian federation has been trying for years to be recognized as an independent body at international competitions (mainly for their hockey). So Basiana is looking for any excuse to point his finger to Paniagua & Co.- The problem is that this time over he sums up athletes into the political equation: please note that Caballero and Gomez are part of the Catalonian “national team”, that even competed officially this year for the first time in an international tournament (last February in Mar del Plata, Argentina). We already know that the doping case was properly dismissed by the competent authorities, so what about the alleged punishment the three skaters are facing? To be eligible for the national Spanish team, you need to participate in their national championships, and in order to qualify for the national championships, you need to perform well at your regional championships. Just as it was in Colombia and Italy until very recently, and as it is in most other countries. Did the three caballeros follow the procedure? They did not. Moreover, there is a press release from Miss Gomez dated February 2007, in which she clearly states that this season her intention was to compete exclusively in WIC races. Plus they all appear registered in every WIC race of the calendar, as well as in the hotel room lists for this whole season.
Nevertheless, backed up by Basiana, they are claiming that the Spanish federation did not allow them to compete at nationals because they uncovered the doping case and/or (depending on which media) because they prefer the WIC instead of their own national championships, accusing Mr Lugea and the spanish federation to be “anti-WIC”.

Is that so? In Pamplona, I first approached Mr Lugea, and fired the question: are you “anti-WIC”? “I am not”, he says, “but I’m against the way in which the dividends are shared: I hate to see the bosses getting rich while there are skaters racing for a sandwich. Besides, I found marathons to be silly races: you can’t compare one of those to a points/elimination race, can you?. I agree with the last, while laughed at the former. But what about Spanish skaters racing at WIC marathons? “I couldn’t care less about what they do or don’t, as long as they don’t miss the Spanish federation’s scheduled activities, that are the base of my own selection system”.
Clear enough, I guess. Now it’s time to ask Mr Carmelo Paniagua: are you “anti-WIC”? “Me? Some may remember that I organized two World Cup stages here in Pamplona before. How could I be anti-WIC?” Why don’t you organize another one, then? “Oh, it’s not the Spanish Federation task to do that, but rather those so fond of WIC should try to do it here. Anyway, we try to plan our races carefully avoiding conflicting dates with WIC’s calendar, but as you know the season is short”. Is it true that you don’t allow WIC racers to participate in national championships? “Nonsense! Rules are rules: some skaters follow them (see Marianistas team) some don’t. It’s their personal choice”.
The truth is much simpler: Spain does not have the huge mass of fitness/speedness skaters that France or Switzerland –for instance- have, so it does not make much sense to block streets and involve a huge amount of resources and personnel in a sure-fire economical failure. WIC is not a non-profit organization, right? So the Spanish federation cannot be accused to be anti-WIC, since they are not even able to provide a considerable amount of elite skaters to the World Cup class ranks.

Now, to be honest, there were some cases in the past in which spanish top athletes were allowed to compete at national championships without having qualified at regionals… But do these three guys deserve a special treatment, after what they’ve done? I wonder. Will the spanish team suffer from their absence during the next important appointments? Time will tell, but no coach in his right mind would include conflicting characters in his team unless they're called Chad. Sadly, they are not.
I hope to be talking to these three good skaters soon to hear their version of this mess (and might be completing this article with it), but at this point their case is lost, no doubt about it.

Marcello Bresin

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