The Irvine championships displayed the sport in all its Day-Glo glory: Rock music blared from speakers, members of Team Rollerblade performed freestyle stunts, and prizes—including cash—were awarded to the winners. "I'd never seen something so big for skating," says Parra, who finished eighth in the men's 10-kilometer race.
The folks who preside over quad roller-skating are latecomers to the in-line scene, and by comparison their in-line championships in San Francisco seemed somber. The day was cold and miserable, and the event was a no-frills affair—a flat stretch of road, a few grim-faced officials, a timer.
But if the Nebraska-based USAC/RS seemed out of its element in this flashy sport, the skaters definitely were not out of theirs. They are dedicated athletes, many of them national and world quad champions who have labored in obscurity for years. "We never got the recognition before," says Doug Glass, the 1990 national men's quad champion, "but we take our sport as seriously as other athletes."
They also had something to prove in San Francisco. "Everybody has been saying that conventional skaters couldn't stand up against the in-liners," says the 25-year-old Glass, of Huntington Beach, Calif., who has skated competitively for 14 years.
Although he stepped into in-line skates only six months ago, Glass won the 30K race at Irvine in 55:23.10. Then, proving it was no fluke, he won the USAC/RS men's marathon in San Francisco a week later. Glass finished in 1:25:50.55, averaging almost 20 mph.
As if to drive home the point that quad skaters bow to no one, Gypsy Lucas, a 17-year-old from Dallas who has been the national women's quad champion at 300 meters since 1988, won the USA women's 10K in 19:59.49. A week later Lucas won the women's half-marathon in San Francisco despite flirting with disaster as she pushed down the homestretch. The USAC/RS race got off to a painfully slow start, mostly because many of the women in the race had little experience in pace-setting. Things heated up only in the last four miles, when Lucas, Heather Lacayo and competitive cyclist Tricia Walters broke from the pack. But no one had a chance against Lucas, even though she nearly had a catastrophe. Coming down the final straightaway she caught the edge of her right skate and had to execute a full spin to recover. Lucas's accident was understandable, for, like Glass, she is a rookie on in-line skates.
While Glass, Lucas and Parra impressed the handful of spectators at this "third" national championships, the event was equally notable for who was not there. Tony and Dante Muse, the brothers from Des Moines who have shared the men's world quad speed-skating title since 1988, were absent. They didn't feel comfortable racing on in-line skates. In June 1989 the two had entered the 100K Tour de Malibu race and—skating on quads—were demolished by the in-line competition. "Tony and Dante don't want to come and race unless they're at the top," said Parra.
Also missing were many of the top in-liners who had raced in Irvine. Their absence was the result of a feud between USA and USAC/RS, which are competing to become the national governing body for in-line skating. Sponsors who are members of USA weren't about to spend money to send their team skaters to a rival event.
It's hard to imagine that a roller skate could cause such a fuss. Five wheels in a straight line seems simple enough. What complicates the issue is the money this skate can generate. By 1995, industry experts predict, in-line skating will be a billion-dollar-a-year business. "When USAC saw how big the industry was becoming," says Matzger, "they wanted to get in on it."
USAC/RS insists that's not true. "We wanted to make sure that in-line skating wasn't a fad," says USAC/RS spokesman Dwain Hebda.