Printed: Saturday, January 15, 2005
NESL Invitational Pro-Elite Women
   Rollarama Schenectady, NY
   Saturday, May 03, 2003

Pro-Elite Women

May 2nd was the weekend of the Northeast Speed League's Invitational in Schenectady, New York. With all the regional teams in attendance, as well as such powerhouses as SOS from Pennsylvania and Team X-Cel from Michigan, the meet shaped up to be both fun and exciting. Cash awards were given to all Individual division placements including Junior Olympic for the first time at this meet. Team Mogema-Labeda was represented by Kimberly Derrick and Erin Di Julio in the Ladies Pro Elite division. With Verducci represented well by Kristen St. Nicholas and Empire's Helen Havam racing as well.

From the sound of the gun for the first race, this was going to be one of the more exciting divisions to watch. Early on in the 1000 meter event, the lead kept swapping back and forth with a lot of bumping. Each lady took a turn in the lead, and with 4 laps to go the pace started to pick up. Kimberly Derrick took the lead, with Erin Di Julio and Kristen St. Nicholas right behind. St. Nicholas passed up and Havam tried to pass Di Julio on the next corner. Havam didn't make the pass, but wound up taking both herself and Di Julio down and out of the race. Di Julio fell hard on her knee, and it was obvious she was hurting as she finished up the race. This put St. Nicholas in 2nd place with Derrick taking the win and Jenna Lezon taking third.

With the pressure on in the 500 meter, the race was a sprint from the beginning. Derrick took the lead from the start and never looked back. Di Julio was in second, but Kristen St. Nicholas went by Di Julio and again took second place with Di Julio taking third and Havam coming in fourth.

The final event was the 2000 meter points race on the NIRA oval track. The ladies lined up on the NIRA starting line and the race was off. Di Julio jumped out to an early lead and Derrick stayed in second place throughout the race. As the oval track is more like skating banked track lines, the Mogema-Labeda ladies took advantage of the non-standard track patterns used on this oval track and began a "snake" type pattern, consistently moving from an outside lane to and inside lane on each lap. The ladies also took slightly different lines, offsetting themselves and making it harder for passing to occur. With this type of track pattern and offset, the only place for a pass into the lead is on the outside. Unfortunately for the other ladies, this meant trying to skate much more than 100 meters in an attempt to pass, and just as on a banked track, they found that you quickly run out of energy trying to stay on the outside. With 7 laps to go, Di Julio began a buildup and was sprinting with 4 laps to go. The ladies finished with Di Julio taking the win, Derrick coming in second, and St. Nicholas rounding out the top 3.

After the race was finished, the referees gathered in the middle to discuss the event. It seems that there was some sort of confusion on the referees part as to how the race was to be run. The dilemma was whether to use USA/RS rules or NIRA rules. After considerable discussion, the ladies were called to the middle and asked if they knew what rules they were using. All ladies unanimously agreed that due to the start line, and the nature of how this race has been run at every other Invitational for the past several years, they thought NIRA rules were in effect. After some more discussion, the Chief Referee decided to re-run the race using the USA/RS track and rules. The ladies requested that the race not be re-run and all agreed the race was run fair and in the same manner as every other race they attended using the oval track. All ladies stated they were happy with the results and did not wish to re-run. At this point, the Chief Referee declared the race a no-contest and told the ladies they had to either re-run or take no points for the race.

With an official conference going on in the middle, it seemed more eyes were on the ladies as they tried to decide what the right thing to do was. All ladies unanimously agreed that they would not re-run the race. Especially as the solution of running a points race on a USA/RS track was not even in the USA/RS rule book. The only provision for the points race according to the USA/RS rule book is to run it on the oval track for the Pro Elite Division. Interestingly enough, this is exactly what was done in the men's points race. However, it is important to note that every skater agreed it is dumb to try and run the Pro Elite Points race on the oval track and use the same USA/RS indoor mindset with regard to track pattern and fouls as on the USA/RS track. The solution seems to be the way this race has been treated at NIRA races and US Cup races--treat the track as though it were a banked track and allow the skaters to use the same track patterns and techniques as at Outdoor Nationals. Further, skaters should not be penalized for looking back and adjusting a track pattern to prevent a pass from being attempted. The idea of the oval is to allow more track patterns--not penalize skaters for taking advantage of this.

When all was said and done, it seemed that the basis for the confusion indeed, was in the track pattern being run and a referee or referees wanting to know if blocking was a problem. In fairness to the referees, this was the first time that some of them had seen this race on the oval track and they had never seen these types of track patterns being run before. The up side to all of this is that it gives USA/RS a chance to address the issue before Indoor Nationals where if it comes up it could cost someone a National placement. Hopefully, USA/RS will take note and find a reasonable solution prior to Nationals.

In the Senior Women's Relay, Derrick and Di Julio took off from the gun and controlled the race from the beginning. St. Nicholas tried a pass with 2 laps to go, but Derrick passed back immediately and took off to pick up the win for the Mogema-Labeda ladies.

One final note to aid in the decision process: If we keep in mind that the best solution is the one that is best for the skaters. The Pro Elite skaters are old enough and experienced enough to make this decision. Hopefully, we'll allow them to have an input into how this race should be run. The racing is supposed to be for the skaters. They should be listened to (within reason) or we may one day find ourselves with all the referees, officials, coaches and USA/RS staff we could hope for, but no skaters left to race.


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