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Worlds 2006, the balance

One more World Championship edition has just ended, and nobody seems to care to carry out a general balance of the tournament, so I just might kick the ball as well. Most probably nobody would care to read it, but... what the hell.


A famous Italian sports journalist says that “in order to write about football, the author should at least have kicked a corner during a Serie A (premier league) match”. On the same basis, surely I’ve got my fair share of races in the last 20 years, so I hereby take my head completely out of my rectum and proclaim my own self-authority for the task at hand. Unfortunately I wasn’t a spectator in Anyang (CIC does not pay my airfare, you know), but we can have an educated guess on what went on over there during those exciting days by checking the results, watching the videos, reading some blogs and taking a look at the general big picture.

Awards & Observations

The Big Surprise: Italy’s catastrophic demise
Man, it has not been this bad since Rome ’92, and that says a lot! Nobody expected such a downfall, much less the Italians themselves. Has it not be for the usual winning horses, their medal count could have been lower than Canada’s (cheers Peter!). The possible reasons are too many to mention here, and the federation officials for once are keeping their mouths shut. At least something positive arose from this situation.

Disappointments
• France – Without their big stars (getting old and/or switching wheels for blades) plus Guyader’s erratic behaviour (apparently he was excluded from a couple of races for his bad temper, ze nasty boy!), it seems absurd to realize the French had only one gold in their pocket. Although a new generation of young champions might get the Gallics an insurance policy for the next decade.
• Venezuela – Those guys were improving steadily in the last few years: missing this appointment for political reasons spells really bad news for our sport in general.
• Australia – Where are they now? Call me old fashioned, but I used to see almost every podium at Worlds with an aussie on it… Alas, after Desly Hill closed the door behind her, looks like Down Under’s speedskating is spiralling into nothingness. What a pity.
A related discussion is going on here >>

The confirmation
Once again, Korea shows the paws, and there’s no turning back. No “China Taipei syndrome” for them, that’s not going to happen. They are here to stay on top, and as I stated in my article about Korean skating >>, they are aiming for world domination with very good chances to succeed.

Female Golden Skate
Catherine Peñán, who almost by herself put Chile back in its place on the international field. Kudos also to Colombia’s Cecilia Baena and Carolina Upegui (5 medals each). A mention to young kiwi Nicole Begg, for collecting assorted metals on her first senior year.

Male Golden Skate
And the winner is…. Who else? Mr. Joseph Mantia gives the finger to his elders, and he couldn’t care less about their CV’s. Good for him; good for us too now that we have a new Chad! That is, until he swaps to ice too.

Best Newcomers – Male
Mikel Goñi (ES) - Johan Stuardo (CHI) – Every single junior from Korea

Best Newcomers – Female
Shannen Lee Howard (COL) - Heather Richardson (USA) - Victoria Rodriguez Lopez (ARG)

Best Newcomers – Team
Iran, no doubt.

"Future sure bets" Award
Ewen Fernandez (FR) – DJ Nation (NZ) – Agustin Sanjuan (ARG) – Chile’s juniors - Every single girl in the Colombian and Korean teams.

Best skinsuit
New Zealand (bar Kalon’s time trial pyjama!) – Korea – USA – Iran women’s apparel. No, really!

Best looking Female
Not great pools to choose from this year, but the nominees are: Nicole Begg (NZ) – Brittany Bowe (USA) – Sara Bak (DK) – Szusana Lugosi (HUN)

Best looking Male
Joey “Cheeks” Mantia – Patrizio “Macho Man” Triberio – Kalon “Not available for now” Dobbin – Vinny “Prince” Henry

Best coach
The nominees are:
• Elias del Valle – Colombia’s master coach
• Renee Hildebrand – coaches Mantia & Bowe (see her biography >> )
• Bill Begg – after a year of his influence, two medals for Germany. Coincidence? Hardly.
• Roberto Perrone – the man responsible for Iran’s team foundation, from desert dust to a decent ensemble.
• Carlos Lugea – Spain started to benefit from his input already, India wishes he never went away.
• Roy Dobbin – Brought back kiwis where they belong: the podium.

Best Judge
Prize not awarded this year. Yet again.

Dumb&Dumber Special Award
Goes to Mrs Roberta Marchegiani, a less than average judge that for political reasons has a position she clearly is not worthy of. After disqualifying an athlete, the lady soon backed off due to a blatant demonstration that she is utterly unacquainted with CIC’s own rules. Applause here, please.

Achievement “Miracle Makers” Award
Given to Argentina. They’re still able to collect medals in spite of having a terminally ill federation with harsh internal turmoil, no resources and almost no competition (in their homeland or abroad). Andrea Gonzalez kicked ass as always (in her worst season ever), and a bunch of up and coming youngsters put the country’s expectations on the bright side.

The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

Good
• Organization & venues
Not enough positive appraisals can be directed to the local organization. These guys had put on a show never seen before in skating history, and I’m not talking about the inauguration ceremony… This tournament has set a mark, a new standard that will be difficult to improve in the next few years. Even air conditioned toilets! And who can afford a superb infrastructure like that? Next year Colombia has a tough task at trying to surpass Anyang’s excellence; all in all this was arguably the best World Championships ever.
• Teams tents
Everybody agrees: those were too cool!
• Public
Did you notice? In every race there were groups of local spectators with the specific mission of cheering every nation competing on the field! That’s what I call sportsmanship.
• Races
The competition level generally has been of the highest quality, with many world records broken, heart-stopping finishes, and overall “fair-play” in spite of what some amateurs wrote down in their webs. Team racing is allowed by the rules, so if you want to win try to place as much skaters as you can in the final. The 500 and 1000 metres races are not for sissies, by its nature there must be a little violence… if you don’t like it, put back on your glittering artistic attire and go spin around in your shiny white boots.
It was good to see New Zealand and Chile back among the top nations (notwithstanding their budget restrains), Korea’s objectives reached (as host and as a team) and Colombia’s hegemonic setting of standards for everybody else.

Bad: 50 countries my arse
What a great idea the CIC had this time, asking the organizing committee to provide the travelling/lodging costs for many “emerging” nations, in order to beat the participation record at Worlds. At first instance they succeeded in their record-breaking chore (roughly), and they will make sure as hell to scream it out loudly and proudly to everyone who cares to listen. But in truth, most of those “new countries” were represented by only 1 or 2 skaters, in more than one case total rookies that don’t even live or were born in those countries. I can even bet they’re about half the skating population of those countries!
Now, this manoeuvre will certainly have positive political implications for the international governing body, but the sport’s welfare is not on its agenda, obviously… Races on this tournament had by and large two types of athletes: those who skated properly and those who where invited to go play chess after 1 or 2 laps. It’s that the image we want to bring about our own World Bloody Championships? Do we really enjoy standing half a day watching judges teaching how to start off time trials to those poor chaps that until two months ago were totally unaware of our sport’s very existence? No, thank you, Mr Marotta: we really believe that artificially adding countries to Worlds just to increase its participation list does not constitute a valid way to promote our sport… Or we will have consequences like a swarm of spotty fat teenagers racing the 500 mts in three minutes sharp during the sport’s most important event of the planet. What a great show for Olympic observers! “Oh, but those chubby boys may one day bring up the sport in their countries”, an innocently moronic opinionated commentator may point out. Come on, I would answer. Don’t give me that bullshit and open up your eyes, once and for all.

Ugly: the non-existant media coverage
Our gratitude goes to Mr Alex Bont, who took the effort and placed the funds aimed to a decent reporting of this event. But I’m afraid it’s just not enough. Aside from Colombia and Korea, countries that have substantial but parochial media coverage in every World Championship since Barrancabermeja (TV, press and radio), you’ll find only short articles on local newspapers in Ocala, Timaru or Mar del Plata (perhaps with a small picture) eulogizing the exploits of their local hero on distant shores. That’s all.
Not even the inexpensive internet coverage was done properly. Admittedly, the official website in two languages was the best ever seen for Worlds (precedents little more than rubbish, usually) and competent as far as instant results were concerned, but the multimedia and news sections were nearly useless, and the English translations left much to be desired. Not even the federations that got gold medals had published on their own corporate websites decent articles and/or photo albums about their teams (with the exception of Colombia, of course). The Italian federation had as much as two paid journalists (among a flock of bureaucrats) officially in their deputation: do you know how many articles appeared in Italy’s media about this event? Just one, about the size of the point that ends this phrase.
Thus, the total media coverage of the most important event on Earth for inline speedskating available to the greater number of consumers sums up to:

- The official website: the best in its class, but with glitches.
- A sloppy website financed by a very well known manufacturer and driven by CIC’s politics, mainly written in broken Spanish by its non-skating teenager editor, who loves to copycat (and badly translate) what he unearths in other site’s forums.
- Whatever is assembled from a cluster of forums around the globe.
- A few websites made by some other teenagers/amateurs that copy what they find in even more forums.
- Some insight/backstage views courtesy of a couple of athletes with time to spare (Peter Doucet >>, Gavin Pollock >>) in addition to the excellent reports produced by a sweet girl on a business trip (see here >>).

That’s about all. Not much better than the seventies or eighties, you'd reckon. No live video/audio coverage, nearly not enough pictures, no objective commentaries about the races… In essence, an incomplete "word of mouth": no professional exposure of what happens to be our main display window to the world. But unfortunately that’s exactly what we deserve: evidently there is no market for professional journalism in skating, since the sparse followers this sport has are not interested at all in supporting any project that would provide suitable media coverage. A poll we recently conducted proved that almost 90% of fans would not pay even a small amount for a streaming live video from Worlds.
Want more proof? Take the failure of magazines like FASST or Race&Roll, certainly not due to defective quality, but rather a sad lack of subscribers.
So how can we expect or demand respect from the sporting world, much less from the Olympic Committee, if we don’t take seriously our own World Championships?
We are nothing more than a poor man's sport mainly because we don’t pay enough attention to the media values: let’s not complain about our own fault, then.

Good night and good luck, skating world.

Marcello Bresin
©Speedsk8rs.com


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