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11 Consecutive Olympics: A Speedskating Dynasty?

profjb2000's picture

     In the sports world, columnists declare a sports dynasty is upon us every time a team, athlete, or coach has multiple appearances in his or her version of "the big show". The papers and sports channels clamor to tout their successes. However, a success story in amateur sports has been mostly ignored in St. Louis where area skaters have represented the USA in the last 11 consecutive Olympics games. Now, St. Louis skaters are positioning themselves to continue this great tradition while continuing to be mostly ignored. 

Currently, three skaters from St. Louis are on track towards the national team and a 12th consecutive Olympics. Matt Plummer, Patrick Meek, and J.P. Kepka, all skaters of the St. Louis Metros Speed Skating Club, are performing very well in World and US competition. Matt and Patrick recently switched to long track and are having early success, including Matt's recent overwhelming win at the U.S. Junior Long Track Championships. J.P. Kepka, bronze medalist in the last Olympics, just took 4th in the World Cup Short Track championships 500m final. 

   While these skaters reap the rewards of their hard work and the countless hours donated by the club volunteers and former Olympians, I wonder if this is a dynasty. The newspapers don't seem to think it is worth noticing. The clubs and sport struggles to get any recognition or publicity that would help raise funds and recruit the next generation of skaters. 

     While I consider aloud if St. Louis has created a speed skating dynasty, I also ponder the future of speed skating in general. USS seems to be raiding the speed skating cupboard by going for inline skaters instead of expanding the sport. The inline speed skating sports seem to be shrinking with reduced participation and discontinuance of some inline events while I am hoping for expansion. I am optimistic thanks to growth in Asia and Europe, but I still must wonder where are we headed here in the US. Is this just a "dry spell" here in the US?


roadskater's picture

From Wheels to Ice to Gold to Television

Thanks for this post! It is so great to hear about a vibrant club that is producing results, with members who train together, who give back to the sport. Keep doing it!


Press releases: The press for the most part is very busy. They scan the wire, scan the television, scan the radio, look at press releases shoved in front of them perhaps, do what their bosses assign, and they have to get with it and get the stories in. Even in monthlies, deadlines roll around and so much is already in front of them, it's not likely they'll come looking for our story. Sending out press releases, particularly for local stories, is likely an effective way to get some attention. Oh yes, I've always thought this, and I've yet to do it. So let's keep this discussion going and see if we can get each other doing it.


I've been amazed that in all the years we've skated at least 90 miles in 2 days at the Tour to Tanglewood for Multiple Sclerosis, no newspaper or television has actually published a story on it, as far as I know. We were interviewed at a rest stop no less, but nothing came of it AFAIK. And I have not done the easy enough things, publishing participants' records after the event (in this case how many miles and dollars raised plus their home town, sent to their home town newspaper). This is something the US10K does that sparkles.


Skater stealers: Yes eebee and I were talking about this and it comes down once again to Olympics. There's still work going on in that area as noted here recently. It looks like World Games participation is a first and important goal. Spreading the sport to more countries is important. And it will come with the rise of Asia in the world economy. But the flow will be to the ice at least until there is Olympic, and thus, television, exposure. Believers make a difference, so let's keep believing. We have no choice! Inline roadskating is incredible!


Cycling: Even cycling, amazingly enough, has had a hard time making it in the USA as far as competitive events. With Lance Armstrong out there winning and several other USofAmericans making a splash, cycling still hasn't really sparked like I would have thought in terms of competition and daily presence.


The very young and then the rest of us: Our sport is tough to present to the very young in the outdoor roadskating form, as kids almost always and even adults sometimes get banned from the roads. Indoor racing and similar outdoor parking lot racing is where all of this starts, and we should do all we can to get that going, and we should consider holding weekly kids races or club races...


Pre-Cool, Cool and Post-Cool: I am absolutely sure that pre-cool kids love to see us on inline skates in the park...but I think once they get to a certain age it's mostly the skateboard and aggressive and BMX that catch their attention. Post-Cool folk seem to like inline, and might watch it on tele too, but only if the people doing it were cool, and hot (see below).


Regular local low-risk competition: As I think back to younger days, I used to show up in Boone, NC, at the ASU track for weekly track races (running), back when I was so lean my Mom was worried (I wish you had never shared that with me Mom! Look at me now!). I was a roadrunner and preferred mountains but I showed up at the track because it helped to learn pacing and to see just how not great I was. The club just had informal racing and no prizes and it was fun. Let's do that in our communities! Even with youngsters we could find some outdoor spaces to make a safe track in a gigantic parking lot of, say, a sports arena not currently holding an event. Trophies: Having said what I just did, I note that people seem to like trophies. Maybe showing up at a park with some trophies to give out would spark some interest. Winner, International Inline Championship for Closed Loops on a Friday at 5pm, Age 10 years, 3 months, blond haired males division. I, myself, I like those medals, especially for just finishing!


Money: People like money. I note that GatorbackSkate Mark offered up some bucks and got some folk to show for his outlaw race. Money is a draw, no doubt about it.


Affiliation: To get inline (indoor or roadskating) zipping it would take lots of money and TV exposure, methinks. That most easily means corporations have to want to get some of our buzz. We'd have to get some buzz for them to want it. And we'd have to get the right kind of buzz, not spoiled brat buzz or I could not possibly represent a company buzz.


Buzz: Our best buzz has come from ice, where they love to tell how these folk came from inline, with Joey Cheek showing wonderfully well in a good guy mode, but Davis and Hedrick are not really capturing corporate dollars the way they might've, in my opinion due to their lack of grace under pressure. (I spot this flaw easily, having it.) Corporations, or most of them likely to fund speedskating, seem justly hesitant to sign these guys for sponsorship...if you're looking for a bad boy image you don't start out looking in speedskating, and if you're looking for a hottie that doesn't ruin it by speaking, well those guys blew it during the Olys, eh?


"Speedskating bad boy" is an oxymoron of sorts, methinks. The image is grace, speed, efficiency, stamina, perhaps. So corporations looking for that image might want to attach to speedskating of the long track sort, or even short track, Olympic being the key word.


Inline speed is sort of in the middle image-wise, perhaps. Companies looking for jagged edge rugged extreme go with grinders and those looking for flowing smooth agility go with at best long track ice. That's just my quick thought on it.  


Non-Skate Company Sponsors: Having said all of this, we should keep our eyes open for companies that would fit well with inline, who are not inline companies (as the industry and its former organization failed miserably to represent in my view), but who either make peripheral equipment (helmets, GPS, clothing, sport drinks and food) who might sponsor some events or organizations. Tying it to this industry is not going to work in my view, unless you consider Heelys part of this industry. Now maybe a Heelys race in Country Park would bring 'em!


Note that most sports make it by drawing sponsorship outside their industry and equipment manufacturers. Very few people figure skate, but a good enough number of them for weekend afternoon television in the right demographic watch it. People with money to spend and the decision power are watching. Golf dominates not by numbers but by numbers of dollars in pockets of those watching.


Skinsuits: Back to buzz, Olympics, and television...Sadly, if just one of those gold medal winners were a smoking-hot teenage babe, inline and ice would be on television. It seems like two things work:

  • USA USA USA must be almost certain to win or already known to have won;
  • and if there's a woman anywhere near babeness they'll want to get up close and personal about that in a big way.


The question, again sadly, is, what will 18-35 year-old males watch? Obviously they love commercials with not so hot guys doing nothing while their unreasonably hot younger wives are fixing pizzas and bringing the beers, maybe with the help of a loyal dogster. There, I've said it. Maybe we should do commercials showing how a geeky inline skater can get hot babes just by winning skate races?


They'd be interested in our skinsuits with the right people in them, but we might not agree on "right," and that is so anti-sport that those of us that love the sport don't generally want to promote inline skating with that. There are exceptions of course! Lots of us think we should work hard, train hard, race hard, represent the sport well, and that would work. Well maybe but look how everything else is brought to our attention and you'll see what I mean. We only hear about pretty kids that are kidnapped, music from pretty people mostly, movies with pretty people as the major draw, etc.


But if lower-middle-aged rollergirls can get buzz, you know that skinsuited teenage girls and boys could, if they'd get out of the rink and into view. Just as with ice figures, gymnastics, swimming, and other sports, USAmerica seems to want to mostly watch adolescents doing these individual sports, being content to watch old guys play team sports.


Arrgh! This is all just what I'm feeling right now and I surely can't prove anything. I guess I'm just not so interested in promoting the sport that I want to see it go the way of being sold by babes in skinsuits (or in nothing as Bont did some time back), even though I have nothing against babes in skinsuits.


Thanks again, profjb2000, for giving us lots to ponder. Also, your piece got a little skateylove from our friend in skates, Peter Doucet, so let's give some back...check his great site out at...hey wait but come back here too...and if you're lurking, please join and share your comments on roadskater.net rsn2.com. Here's Peter's page...

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