Lausanne, Switzerland


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ISU World Junior Speed Skating Championships 2017©International Skating Union (ISU)

Inline skating and ice skating are similar at first sight. Many Speed Skating champions also compete in inline competitions and the other way around. Past Olympic Champions like Derrek Parra (USA) and Chad Hedrick (USA) were World Champions in inline skating before switching to the ice, and last week Belgian Olympic ice skater Bart Swings grabbed two world inline titles in Barcelona. Yet, apart from the obvious differences between wheels on tarmac and blades on ice, the two sports require different techniques. Combining inline and ice is by no means easy.

One of the first inline champions to switch from wheels to blades was KC Boutiette (USA). After a prolific career on tarmac, he turned his attention to the ice in 1993 and made it into the US Olympic team for the 1994 Winter Olympics in Hamar, Norway. Boutiette never won an Olympic medal, but he is seen as the trailblazer for a whole generation of American inline skaters who conquered the world of international Speed Skating in in the early 2000s.

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Jennifer Rodriguez (USA) started her career as an artistic roller skater before becoming an inline Speed Skating world champion in 1993, to eventually turn her attention to ice Speed Skating in 1996. She participated in the 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010 Winter Olympic Games, winning bronze medals in the 1000m and 1500m in Salt Lake City in 2002. Joey Cheek, Derek Parra and Chad Hedrick took Olympic Speed Skating titles at the 2002 and 2006 Olympic Games, after having made the switch from inline.

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Jennifer Rodriguez (USA) at the Winter Olympic Games 2002©Getty Images

Current world mass start champion Joey Mantia (USA) made the transition from tarmac to ice in 2011, after having won multiple world inline titles.

“What really got me over, was the fact that I got a feeling of redundancy in inline, going into the same routine every year. I did not want to find myself digging a hole and end up hating what I had loved my whole life, so I packed up all my stuff and moved to Salt Lake City”, he explained.

The switch from wheels to ice did not come easy, however. Although the technique has a lot of similarities, Mantia is still struggling to adapt to the ice to this very day: “I had to detrain myself not to double-push. Still, if you watch closely, you can see that bob up and down a little bit. There’s a sweet spot in inline skating, that I always felt was really efficient for me, that felt like home. Ice skating for me is not natural at all.

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Joey Mantia (USA) at the ISU World Cup Speed Skating 2018©International Skating Union (ISU)

“The hardest thing coming over from inline to the ice is the start. There’s nothing similar at all. With inline I was a runner. I got up on my toes, hips forward, I just leaned and reached out in front of me and pull the ground. I had one of the best starts in the world in inline, and on the ice I had one of the worst starts. I still don’t understand it completely. It’s not something that comes natural.”

While the previous generations often switched from wheels to blades completely, currently many Speed Skaters combine the two sports. Bart Swings (BEL) won the 10000m points/elimination and the 1000m world titles at the World Roller Games in Barcelona last week.

World 500m champion in Speed Skating Vanessa Herzog (AUT) loves inline skating just as much as Speed Skating. She says: "Ice skating is more important because it's Olympic. If inline skating would be Olympic too, I would not be able to choose. You use the same muscles, but there are many differences too. Skating on ice is smoother, the strokes are longer and the technique is more precise.

"Another big difference, is the race format. In Ice Skating it's the fastest time, in inline Skating it's first to the line. Therefore, you have to adjust more to the other competitors in inline. I like both formats. When the winter ends, I take my inline skates to go racing and after the World Inline Championships in the summer I concentrate on the ice again."

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Vanessa Herzog (AUT) at the ISU World Sprint Speed Skating Championships 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)

Because of the race format, inline champion Francesca Lollobrigida (ITA) was delighted when the mass start event was introduced in ice Speed Skating. The Italian was put on roller skates by her father, who was an inline Speed Skating world champion. She has combined inline and ice since she was a kid. She became an inline champion and went to the Netherlands to skate marathons on the ice.

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Francesca Lollobrigida (ITA) at the ISU World Cup Speed Skating Championships 2018©International Skating Union (ISU)

She says: 'I liked Marathon Skating because the race format was much like inline skating. Contrary to the classical long track Speed Skating, marathon skating is a bunch race and the Mass Start is a bunch race too.

After having finished seventh at the inaugural Olympic mass start event, Lollobrigida still has an Olympic ambition to chase. The Olympic dream is one of the reasons many inline skaters decide to try their luck on the ice. In the future inline skating might also provide another chance for ice skaters to compete at the Olympic Summer Games. Inline skating was introduced as a demonstration sport at the 2014 youth Olympic Games in Nanjing and it was an official sport at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires. It could be part of the official senior Olympic programme in 2024 at earliest.