The Senior World Championships Marathon was quite a spectacle with 120 elite skaters in the Mens race, and about 100 elite skaters in the women’s race. The paceline was immense as it blew past the start/finish line each lap at high speed, and it was incredibly long! The pack whittled down to about 50 through the middle of the race, the speed was high enough to produce a 1:00 hour time for the 41.4km, but the course was not conducive to a breakaway sticking, as the U-turns meant a re-acceleration after each corner, approximately every 1500m. Any breakaway attempt was also “in view” almost constantly due to the U-turns. So.. a bunch sprint it was to be with Juan Cruz Araldi from Argentina just out sprinting Peter Michael from New Zealand in the Mens race, Ricardo Burgari (Italy) taking the bronze. Liu Yi Hsuan (Chinese Tapei) recording a time of 1:09.21 to win the women’s race ahead of her team mate Yu Ting Huang, and Clement Halibut (France) picking up third.
Unfortunately, the Juniors were made to race with the Seniors, due to the lack of “road time” allowed by Nanjing City and Nanjing RS. (Some have said that the Masters race took the time away from the juniors, however, the masters race only took up 90 mins. This was not enough time to run both the Junior Men and Junior Women’s race which would have taken over 3 hours including warm-up times for both groups. And anyway, as you will read later, the Juniors REALLY didn’t want to race in the Masters time slot, believe me, ti was a mess.) In my opinion, it’s simply a mistake by the organising committee, they should have ensured adequate time to organise the events that they had agreed to run. (i.e. roads closed all day and not starting the racing at 7:30 in the morning).
“Running the juniors with the seniors” doesn’t sound that bad, does it? Well, no, not on the face of it. It’s not until you take it down to a personal level that you realise what has happened. So let’s illustrate it on a personal level…
Because of this organisational blunder, a good friend of mine, along with 5 other great skaters who have worked hard for many years building their condition and technique for this one moment, this one chance, has been robbed of something very valuable. Philip Schmidt, from Denmark, has been gradually improving, he’s spent thousands of hours, and even more of his parents money, sponsor money, donations and his own earnings to become the best he can be at this sport. He was in good shape and is a great marathon skater. He worked hard in the race following the seniors, and he finished in 25th place…. but he finished as the SECOND best junior skater. In other words, in any other race a SILVER MEDALIST. … but this was supposed to the world championships. He received no medal, he did not get to stand on the podium, there is no photo of him with a massive smile on his face, and this moment may haunt him for years to come. (I personally think Philip has a great future ahead of him and in some time he will eclipse this performance and it won’t be an issue, but that’s not the point, is it. FIRS should honour the winners.) Now you see how “rules”, poor organisation and mistakes affect people, good people, on a personal level. And we didn’t even mention the two junior winners who don’t have a striped T’shirt, and the other two who also are missing their medal. So I will write here what should have been written in history:
Junior Mens Marathon:
World Champion: Zama Tempel (Japan)
Silver medalist: Philip Due Schmidt (Denmark)
Bronze medalist: Thomas Voste (Belgium)
Junior Womens Marathon:
World Champion: Gabriella Vargas (Ecuador)
Silver medalist: Kang Suijin (Korea)
Bronze medalist: Yuri Yosino (Japan)
My heart bleeds for these 6 great skaters, and for the rest who didn’t get their own race.
FIRS/CIC/NanjingRS, this is on you guys. If you have any empathy at all, if you know how hard these guys and girls have worked to get here, then you will be saying “this can never happen again like this”, and “how do we change our processes and out working culture”. I hope you are putting a medal in the post to them.
Earlier that morning... as we rolled down to the road race area, we saw an incredulous sight... wet roads. Why was this so incredible? Well, you see, it had not rained. It had not rained since Friday, and it was now Sunday morning 6:30am. How can it be wet? How? What? But!?!??!
The city workers washed the roads with WATER at 6am (as they do every morning in Nanjing), the roads were still wet at 7:30 when we started our race.
So, on a nice sunny day we raced on wet roads due to the disorganisation of Nanjing RS.
In my entire life, in any sport, I have NEVER heard of such an IDIOTIC mistake to have made. They actually made the road wet for us. PEOPLE made the road wet just before our race. The sidewalk was dry, the grass was dry. But the road we skated on was wet.
Many people crashed because of the water. People are injured because Nanjing RS hadn't communicated properly with the city council.
All the age groups would start at the same time on the same start line. There were no coloured numbers or any system to differentiate the racing age groups. So it was a complete guessing game who you should chase and who you should not. (oh, except we found out after the race that the numbers were 300-399 were U40, 400-499 U50 etc.) It would have been nice to know this before the race. And anyway numbers are hard to read when you're tired and travelling at 40km/h, and the breakaway got 35m away before you could see them because you were on the other side of the paceline. A "coloured-number" system has been standard procedure at previous masters champs. Why was this not used?
The official camera-car that was in front of the main group, stopped in middle of a U turn on the inside of the course, the racing line, only 20m in front of us, on wet roads. Some skaters hit the car.
There was an official car parked at the exit of the WET corner on the racing line. So when you skate out of the corner, suddenly there is a car parked where you didn't expect there to be cars. (The car was not there during my warm-up lap, I checked, it was put there only a few minutes before we arrived in a race pack.)
The race was exactly 8 laps. The finish line was also the start line. Whenever this happens at any marathon, it makes me wonder. What are the chances that it is possible to make a course that is exactly 8 laps in a city. So we measured it with several GPS watches. The "marathon" was 41.4km.
There were no World Championship shirts for the champions, and their national anthem was not play when they were on the podium. This was just disrespectful to these guys and girls who had worked so hard all year to win their dream race!
I could go on... there were many more smaller problems just on this one day of marathons, including the registration process, no official start-list, medical certificates, lost passports, and more... but I will refrain, and move on to a more important discussion of WHY this is happening...
Our sport is being killed by disorganisation, unprofessional attitude, bad planning and politics. More than one person said to me that they consider leaving the sport when it is like this. It's very easy to quit inline and go to cycling, or ice speed. This sport will continue to get smaller if the ruling organisations don't change.
Onward and upward?
Looking forward and upward, how do we communicate this information with the responsible authorities to make it better next year? Who IS responsible?
In our experience it was impossible to make any kind of effective communication with Nanjing RS or their representatives because of the language barrier. (Despite the use of official "translators") For example, it's easy to ask where the supermarket is, but much more difficult, nae impossible to have a detailed discussion about the finer points of a marathon race. This means that as far as Nanjing RS are concerned, everything went ok, it was a great success. There were plenty of very carefully selected photo's with smiling faces, lots of skaters and "kids watching" (brought in for 10 mins just for the photo's). As you can see above, the communication and responsibility pathway is a "dead end".
The night before the marathons there was a meeting involving all the main players involved in SpeedSkating. It was meant to be a short meeting, but due to all the problems, it became quite long. Half-way through, the chairman of FIRS walked out. A little later the head of CIC walked out, and gradually the meeting became a war-zone.
This ... is .... the ... problem.
The PEOPLE in these committees (or the leaders?) fail to realise that ALL 3 groups are responsible. It can not be a success if one group is inadequate. And NanjingRS were obviously very inadequate. It has to be a team effort. It has to be based on discussion, explanation and compromise... a problem-solving approach. This culture does not exist in these organisations.
This would have been a better way to organise and share responsibility:
It's VERY clear that China was not ready to host Worlds, they do not have the "sport-specific-experience" necessary. They do not have the communication skills necessary, and they just don't "know" inline speedskating.
So... one question immediately springs to mind; why were worlds in China? The answer is money.
"Cougar" is a large company in China. It sponsors FIRS with $30,000*. Have we prostituted our sport? And was that wise? Everyone I spoke to thought it was a disaster. (*unofficial estimate)
- - - by the way, isn't $30,000 surprisingly little to buy the World Championships,
considering that Cougar is a Billion Dollar company? - - -
There are very few speedskaters in Nanjing. (Despite the extraordinary claims of NanjingRS, there are not "250,000 skating fans in Nanjing" - click here for link. The maximum number of spectators (discounting teams, athletes and coaches) at any event this week was about 200, briefly. Most of these were school-kids aged 10 years or under, bussed in as a group. They were not present at all events. Actually, I only saw them at 2 morning sessions out of a total of 15 competition session. Most of the time there was about 50 people watching... Anyway, not a quarter of a million.
After a little research I found out that the majority of skaters in Nanjing are either under 10 years old, or "Freestlye Skaters". So of course they don't come to watch SpeedSkating, they have no interest in it, it's a completely different sport and completely different culture.
This point demonstrates perfectly why the "RollerGames" is a flawed concept; Most speedskaters have very little (or zero) interest in Freestlye skating, or hockey, or skateboard. (Except maybe for 10mins "oh, look at that, cool"... And then going back to the SpeedSkating track.) And most hockey players have very little interest in speedskating or freestyle. And I'm absolutely sure that most skateboarders do not like speedskaters and their lycra suits. Dear FIRS, all these sports may have wheels in common, but equipment does not define our sport, CULTURE does. That's why we have more in common with Ice Speedskating than with freestyle or hockey. In my opinion, we would be far better to join forces with the Ice Speed Federation than these other roller sports. (p.s. The Ice Speed Fed. is already Olympic, they have the inside track)
Returning to Masters Worlds for a moment, when asked, Sergio Landi (Head of Masters Speedskating, FIRS) told me that next year, the Masters World Champs will NOT be in Nanjing at the RollerGames. It will be in L'Aquila, Italy in the end of May. So this is good news, not to be in China next year.
I pray for the future of our sport.
Through all this chaos it is important to remember the athletes. As usual most handled the situation very well, and managed great performances. We should congratulate the winners who did their best and skated so fast and strong:
Age Group - Gold - Silver - Bronze
U40 Joel Rodrigez (Esp), Raul Camara (Esp), Jason Metcalf (USA)
U50 Scalera (Ita), Mario Lopez (Esp), Nicolas Alonso (Esp)
U60 Alfredo Velez (Esp), Alex Fedak (USA), Diemo Gorschboth (Ger)
U70 Benny Orloff (Den), Li Shuio (Chn), Kasimirez Posadowski (Ger)
O70 Roger Thomet (Sui), Hughes (Aus), Igor Zambezi (Aus)
Age Group - Gold - Silver - Bronze
U40 Flavia (Bra), Li Cai (Chn), Laura Sopalla (Ger)
U50 Claudia Pechstein (Ger), Karina Weindorf (Ger), Karine Malle (Fra)
U60 Caniatti (Ita), Kristine Davies (Nel), Katrin Leschner (Ger)
U70 Song Xiuyun (Chn), Marion Aithoff (Ger), Christiiana Buquant (Fra)
A special shout-out to those two athletes I have been coaching online, Kristine and Brett from New Zealand. Placing 2nd and 6th respectively. Well done.