Full transparency… this is a VERY uneducated opinion of mine and it is only with such little factual information that it gives me a view of around 30,000 ft above ground.  This means it is an opinion which has been made without many of the important details.

I do not think the United States Inline to Ice program (or whatever it currently is being called) is good for either the sport of ice skating or the sport of Inline skating. 

Last week, one of the athletes I have been training for a few years, decided it was time to move to Salt Lake City to start working on his Olympic dreams. I do not blame him at all for having hopes of competing in or winning Olympic gold medals. It is a common conversation I have in my own head about my career and the would have/should in the rear view mirror. In reality, I had guided his training in a way that he was always headed in the Olympic direction with his current trajectory and age even while training for inlines in Des Moines. What disappoints me is that I feel our United States inline skating athletes are being told it will be a good idea to stop focusing on inlines and to move to ice. Our inline skaters are being “bartered” in such a way that what is best for the long term of both the sports of inline and ice as well as the athletes themselves are being overlooked. Before we get started on a Inline vs Ice conversation, understand that I DO NOT BELIEVE that an athlete has to only be successful at one or the other. Desly Hill-Kluiver proved in Holland with Michael Mulder and many other skaters that athletes could win on both Ice and Inline at the same time (and she proved the Dutch could win at sprints). Bart Swings, Peter Michael, Francesca Lollobrigida, Livio Wenger, Daniel Nero and many more have shown that success could be had in both sports at the same time. Since my view is from so far away in the states, I am not sure on how they are getting it done, but the bottom line is that it is happening in other parts of the world….just not so much in the United States.

Through years of competing and coaching, here are a few things I believe: 1) Athletes have to be rewarded at certain points along the way with competition in order that they both gauge their own current quality and also to in order that they have emotional stimulation returned to them for for the heavy workload they are putting in to try and be the best. 2) Winning tends to be a habit. A habit which is tough to learn, heavy to carry and bitter to let go of. In other words, the mind has a gigantic role in our athletic hero’s and those minds have been molded by past experiences. 3) People/athletes need hero’s or role models to look up to, learn from, follow in foot steps or maybe even surpass records set by in order to aspire.

By taking the United States “next person in” for inline skating every couple of years and sending them over to the ice, I would argue that we are overlooking all three of the points I have listed above. I can’t speak on what it takes to win an Olympic gold medal on Ice, only a few people know so I would defer to what they tell us. I do know by riding shotgun, some of the things it took for Derek Parra and Chad Hedrick to win. I had the blessing of being their teammate and lead out guy on both of their first world championships wins and I skated for years with and against them on the pro circuit. Both Derek and Chad raced a number of roller races every year, winning often but also losing enough times to make them keep going back to work. Both learned to carry that crown of being “The Man” as they both defined a generation. Lastly, both learned the responsibility and work involved in trying to keep that crown. Both had legends and hero’s they looked up to and both found ways to surpass any legacies that were left in front of them. I didn’t get to see the early victories of Joey Mantia but I did get to skate with him and race him. I know he also raced a bunch. I know he had people he looked up to and I have talked with him enough times to know he understands the role he plays in the sport and how much work that role requires. I would imagine that Brittany Bowe and Heather Richardson Bergsma would also share similar experiences coming from such historic roller speed clubs and having themselves left such a great legacy on inlines and ice. 

The thing is, they all learned and practiced these skills on wheels which in my opinion, allows for a much greater launching pad than the ice currently does in the United States. Rollers have more teams to compete with/against, more races with easier access, more opportunities for training and the United States legacy to chase after is pretty decent on wheels (as it also is on ice). I fear that we are currently taking our younger athletes who are showing great potential and dangling the allure of the Olympics in front of them. They may be having good younger results or national results but perhaps they have not fully formed in other areas yet which is in the long run, keeping them from reaching their full potential on ice as well as inlines. I am also not saying that moving to Salt Lake City is a death nail for inline skating, I would have loved to train in the mountains and with some of the other benefits found in Utah. I also know the “potential” to have great coaching of inline and ice is in Salt Lake as the legendary Derek Parra calls Utah home. I just have yet to see the United States ice skaters have much intent or determination to have the same kind of success on inlines as they were once destined for or for being regular athletes on the inline schedule. I can see the need for a sharper focus on ice for Olympic years, for rest periods/cycles around certain international events or for just needing time for a mental/physical break but it often seams like when something has to give…it is the inline skates that suffer. 

I struggle to see how having a weaker USA Inline team is beneficial for the growth of inline skating. I struggle to see how US ice speed skating can see that taking fledging inline skaters is the best “grass roots program” and the way for them to farm skaters and shape future generations. I fail to see how taking a athlete before they have “emotionally” matured as a champion or augmenting the natural or normal arc that athlete was on mentally is good for the future of that athlete. If Inline skaters in the United States run out of memories of inline skaters they want to be like or be better than, what is going to drive them to work hard or compete. And if Inline skaters stop showing up or succeeding in the United States, what will that do to the future growth strategies or “farm team” of the Unites States Ice Federation.

Until Inline skating becomes an Olympic sport, the draw for ultimate success will always be to the ice and the glory the 5 rings bring. My opinion is that the governing bodies should be forward thinking now and devise a better relationship between athletes, coaches and schedules which will keep the success of the athletes and of both sports for future years. From my view point, way too far away to know better…I see short term ideas and deals being made without long term planning or understanding happening. I think it has to be a win – win situation for inline skating and ice skating for the system to work well.

What are your thoughts? Feel free to fill me in all of the blind spots I may not be seeing. Prove me right or wrong and lets all be a part of MAKE AMERICA SKATE AGAIN.

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