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Euros 2010, the balance

No one is able to write the clear and apparent truth-if such a thing can even be said to exist. So for now, I’m telling you I haven’t been at Euros since the 80’s, during quad times. Back then, the tournament was little more than a fairground for Italians. Only a handful of countries showed up, the sporadic non-italian medal coming from the odd freak that had the right mix of talent, balls and luck to avoid their cheats and anti-fairplay… Nowadays, in spite of what the medal tally says, it’s an entirely different story. Yes, the azzurri still largely dominate the field, but barring the Asians, Southamericans, Kiwis and Joey, this event is in many ways similar to proper World Champs. Competition is fierce, mainly because there’s no such a big technical gap as there used to be between countries now (at least, easily noticeable).
To some extent, I might agree with a certain Mr Bill Begg on the subject that it’s not fair to have countries with 3 skaters on a race, while the rest have 2 or less. But then again, how come most countries have been on the spotlight for at least a decade but are not able to bring in a whole team? It sadly means little or no development, and that’s definitely no basis to diminish merits of the leading countries. So how can we establish a fair and objective balance of the tournament without grounding it on the amount of medals taken by country? In my not so humble opinion, the key is to analyze the general technique displayed country by country. And how can one carry on such analysis? To me, the highest expression of technical prowess must be the time trial, so I did set sails to San Benedetto del Tronto and observed ALL time trials performed there (even by those who certainly would skate slower than me). After taking notes and videos, the conclusion is more or less the same one can draw at Worlds: horsepower will never be enough to go faster in this sport (as in any form of skating). Especially on a track like this one, slightly larger than a bloody salad bowl (175mts). You can check below the compilation I made with some of the best athletes; afterwards be so kind to read on my balance…
Bear in mind that I’m not considering much the cadets’ category, since it’s easy for a slightly overdeveloped adolescent to win over the rest, even with bad technique. Can anybody tell me what’s the point in having Euros for cadets, by the way?

As it has been for most events in the last 50 years, females are still more proficient than males among Italian ranks. To compete this year’s Euros I’m not sure the best guys were selected, and I’m pretty sure not the best girls were selected, but to Massi’s credit it’s a hard job to do when there’s such an enormous pool to choose from. In fact, the local talent production is still going on strong: prior to Euros I’ve been to a national stage for juniors and cadets organized by the Italian federation, conducted by Marcelloni. Believe me: there were no less than 50 boys and girls which would very well be representing their country in the next year or so at Worlds. What’s more important, they were executing a massive work of technique improvement that I doubt is done elsewhere, with the notable exception of Korea and Colombia. Duggento may be a shadow of the past, but Italy’s future still looks bright. And their athletes’ mastery of technique is absolute in most cases, thanks to a bunch of great coaches.

After a period of little decline, I was happy to observe that the French are slowly but incessantly getting back to the place they belong. True, Germans collected more medals and points in general to get a shocking second place in the ranking, but the croissant eaters fared much better than any other country as for senior and junior males, even without Guyader’s artistry. Besides, their medals and points are not originating from a couple of abnormally talented athletes but from the whole formation, which displayed the best possible technique after the Italians. And the best news is that they have a lot of bright youngsters coming up as well, guided none the less by Mr Briand.

Many years of hard and serious work are paying dividends for the Germans. Although their most spectacular advancement has taken place in the last 5 years, being the product of a pinch of Italian influence, a season with Bill Begg at the helm of their junior ranks, and under the French connection in the last couple of years (being Monsieur Audoire the latest addition). That being said, the Teutons have Berg, Gegner, Rumpus, Thum, Schwierz and little more to be proud of. With scores of clubs and skaters, plus their humongous resources, genetically engineered temper and pharaonic infrastructure, by now they should be firmly behind the Italians… but they’re not quite there yet. Why’s that? As soon as I find any interesting Fraulein will investigate and report.

Somewhat an odd ensemble, the Dutch. They boast Olympians and ice marathon champions on the team, their foreign coaches are former world champs… yet their medal collection seems not on a par with their potential. Are they bad skaters? Rather the contrary! One must know that their racing system is unique in the world; besides ice and inline skating are heavily intertwined over there, which is just as good. And don’t forget that little more than 10 years ago the Dutch were almost nonexistent on the inline world scene. So it doesn’t make much sense to criticize them for not rallying medals aplenty these days. What’s more, they have a plan: their federal president told me that they firmly believe in Dutch athletes consistently performing both seasons –ice & inline-, and a new homologated track is in the chart for the next couple of years. So watch out for the Hollanders: they might suck at football, but they surely know their skating.

I’m still ready to bet that Renee Hildebrand was instrumental in the recent Belgian resurrection, and it remains to be seen what Botero can do, but my feeling is that they have only a couple of gifted athletes to put on the spotlight and little more. They never seem to grow –at least in numbers- in spite of a rather noticeable international success of their few stars and a monumental tradition in this sport. Hopefully they will capitalize on Mr Hebbrecht and Mr Swings, otherwise yet another generation of Belgian skaters would shrink under its own weight.

Even if they try to forget Lugea’s input, there is no doubt he saved what was a sunken ship. Today’s Spanish skating looks better than a few years back, alas the internal turmoil is still too deep to predict good things to come. Luckily there are still a few phenomena (Fernandez, Peula, Vidondo) that put the country on the inline map; however the number of skaters are decreasing alarmingly and there’s no light at the end of the tunnel thanks to the indolent political class. Are they waiting for the next Sheila Herrero or what?

I remember when the Spaniards used to poke fun at their poorer Iberic cousins… There is not much to laugh at these days, since the Portuguese are evidencing the most spectacular growth in Europe. And they’re doing it entirely by themselves, humbly, no external aid. It’s not that they have only a big senior name or two: I saw even their cadets perform technically better than most countries! Which means their improvement is not due exclusively by a fortunate generation of skaters, but by a serious long term plan. Kudos there.

For as much as they want to hide the fact, Austria owes its medals to the work done by Mr Maurizio Lollobrigida in the last couple of years. Before his intervention, virtually there was no team. Before him, they simply were just another outsider: now they got a whole bunch of promising youngsters that one day could steal medals away from the usual suspects… as long as they keep learning from abroad. If they feel they’re ready to kick ass at the continental level by now, they should think twice.

Scandinavian countries
Finland and Norway are just starting up, Sweden is more a fitness skater’s basin than anything, but Denmark puzzles me. They positively suffer the German influx -having many races just over the border- but on the other hand one can find all these skating “academies” and technical clinics being advertised over there… Coached by whom, I ask myself? Danish coaches must be pretty confident they know the score, but their own country’s score proves otherwise, since other teams with less (and maybe lesser) skaters are getting ahead event after event. Maybe it’s time somebody realizes there’s more to learn than to teach in Hamlet’s kingdom.

Yet another country jump started by an Italian. Cruciani did set the foundation years ago, whoever is in charge these days might be following the right steps judging by what I saw last July in San Benedetto, aside from the various international marathons that are being disputed in Poland lately. We need more situations like this!

Any external observer would reason out that after Coni Altherr’s exit, the formerly thriving Swiss skating building is crumbling down like Lindt chocolate under the sun. Few marathons left in the country, Weinfelden’s track almost abandoned, no big clubs to be mentioned, less and less children entering the sport, no coaches. What used to be world’s skating Mecca has gone kaput, and only one prophet is trying to save what’s left, Mr Rudolph Wenger. Will he be able to do it all by himself? I sure hope so, but then again I’m an incurable optimist.

East Europe
Little by little these countries are becoming noticeable, but the technical gap with the rest is still so large it's more a canyon. Hungary is chiefly ahead of the group and to me they seem to have increased their numbers and general ability (but where was Suszana Lugosi?); the Czech surprised me with a large and happy team. There’s not much to be said about the rest apart from congratulating them for the endeavor of participating.

Former USSR
Just kidding, albeit it simplifies my writing… Well, Mother Russia looks like a provider of rich fitness skaters, alas no plan to develop this sport in sight, no coaches there. I was surprised to find out the Ukrainian team is mainly composed by my master mates from long track: they fare much better on ice than on inlines, for sure! And where were the Estonians?

Aw, blimey! What can I say? Oh yes: God save the Queen and her skating subjects.

A bit of this and that
-Organization: as always, there is almost nobody in Italy that can speak decent English, so there were a lot of misunderstandings and disinformation. The inaugural ceremony was nothing more than the same old same: countries parade, extensive silly speeches, artistic skating dung. And, as ever, rarely the scheduled program was strictly followed. Not much else can be said against the organizers, mainly because the man in charge was Mr Romolo Bugari: a former world champ, he never limited himself to splash his status around (as any Italian would normally do). The guy was doing everything, even cleaning toilets or track with his own hands (I saw it, I swear).

- Judges: the usual kind of crap. Actually one of the three judges I can stand in the whole world asked me to help them recruit pupils for their coven. I didn’t know they even needed to study to be such arseholes! The only positive aspect is a new entry, a sexy young lady called Agnes. Let’s hope she’s voted in again next time.

- Manufacturers: the typical Italian mob was there in full attire. Even Mr Bellotti, who’s not producing his own stuff anymore (he only resells Luigino). I’d like to close this report with a hint of his cheerfulness: “I might be having a prostate cancer, but as long as I get a stiffy I’ll keep shagging!”
We all should learn from him. Ciao!

M. Bresin

Fabio: thou shalt shag

World Inline Coach