Team USA

Going Global: First Roller Derby World Cup Thrills

Canada and France kicked things off at the 2011 Roller Derby World Cup (Canada won 244-17). (Photo by Greg Russell)

When the dust settled, and the final teams skated away from the Bunker in Toronto; when the bleachers were wheeled out, the lights and scaffolding broken down, and the flags pulled from the wall; when the echo of the final whistle of the final bout of the inaugural Roller Derby World Cup finally faded away, little remained in the Bunker that would give away the fact that one of the most important events in a sport’s young history had just occurred there. There were just scraps: empty beer cans, torn laces, worn toe stops. And memories, of course.

Thursday’ Stars vs. Stripes Team USA exhibition bout featured two of the best flat track lineups ever. (Photo by Greg Russell)

A week before the World Cup began, the Bunker did not look like a location ready to hold an international sporting event. Even on the opening day murmurs could be heard about the appropriateness of the facility, a massive Cold War munitions bunker in the middle of a vast sprawl of old warehouses and hangars that were once part of a Canadian Air Force based just north of Toronto. Those used to the stadiums that were often the venues in WFTDA’s Big 5, were at first taken aback by the underground feel of the space: its quirks and eccentricities. But any doubts were erased when the Stars and Stripes took to Track 1 on Thursday night for the Team USA split-squad scrimmage (won 109-108 by the Stars). The energy from the fans and other teams lining the track, within such proximity to the biggest names in the game, was palpable; it was electric and inspiring, and the energy owed a lot to the intimate setting of the unique venue. By the time Ireland and Finland closed out Friday’s games with one of the more entertaining bouts of the 2011 Roller Derby World Cup (a 148-134 victory for Finland), there was no question that the Bunker had sold itself to the fans.

With an abundance of talent (like Suzy Hotrod and Sassy), Team USA was far above the rest of the competition. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

As much as it has been exciting to see the WFTDA playoffs in large stadiums, outside of the Championships the attendance at the Regional playoffs has been sparse which has made the stadiums look cold and empty (despite the number of devoted fans there). The Bunker, on the other hand, was constantly packed for four days, with fans feeding off of each other’s energy and the general euphoria of being at a tournament of this magnitude. Despite the blowouts and the disparity of the countries involved, every bout on each track was lined with loud, adoring fans. Plus, it gave the event a small and exciting start, something that can be built upon in the future.

There was never any doubt that Team USA was going to capture this first ever world cup, but the dominance with which they accomplished the feat was potentially surprising (even after three days of crushing victories, their 532-4 semifinal victory over Australia was somewhat shocking). They are playing the sport in a completely different stratosphere than any of the other countries, but at the very least, Canada showed that there are countries playing the same game. Team USA raised the bar, showed the potential heights of the game: it is now the world’s responsibility to rise up to it.

Australia finished in fourth place (they defeated Sweden 126-80 in the quarterfinals). (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Although expected to be one of the top countries, Australia was still one of the surprises of the tournament. In the first round they handled another pre-tournament favourite Germany with relative ease (136-53) before distancing themselves from eventual fifth place finisher Finland, 179-29. In terms of heart and swagger, New Zealand impressed, facing off against Team USA twice and surviving to tell the tale, while defeating Germany in a thrilling elimination game that knocked the Germans out of the top eight. Finland was a true surprise in the tournament, struggling in the preliminary round before taking out Ireland in that stunning elimination bout to advance to the quarterfinals; their victory for fifth place over Sweden in a Scandinavian showdown was inspiring.

Aside from the final, Canada dominated the tournament including a 499-31 quarterfinal win over Finland. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

But the host nation impressed most of all. 3-0 in the preliminary round (defeating France, Sweden and Brazil by a combined score of 848-50), they destroyed Finland in the quarterfinals (499-31) before facing off against their expected rivals for second place, Team England. Lead by a strong, experienced core of skaters that included pivots 8 Mean Wheeler and Jess Bandit, jammers Iron Wench, Luludemon and Georgia W. Tush, offensive blockers  Windigo and Smach Daddy, defensive closers  Lil Mama, Bone Machine and Semi Precious (who, despite begin a late addition to the team, was a force for the Canadians), and triple threat Beretta Lynch, the Canadians kept their cool and, more importantly, maintained their discipline in a thrilling semi-final against England. They pulled ahead early and held on in a tight one, only truly closing out the game definitively in the waning minutes for a 161-90 victory and a guaranteed silver medal. Despite some impressive pack performances in the final from 8 Mean, Boner, Windigo and tournament MVP Smack Daddy, and some exceptional jamming from Iron Wench (5 leads for a 50% lead percentage) and Luludemon (18 points total and a pretty remarkable 2.5 points per jam), they ran into the impenetrable wall that was Team USA. Canada seemed content to hold USA to fewer points than anyone else and managed to score more points against them than all of their previous opponents combined, all in all, an impressive performance.

Despite giving them their stiffest test, Canada was overmatched 336-33 by USA in the final. (Photo by Greg Russell)

This tournament was an experiment in real time that proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that this sport has gone global; that this sport is important, more important than just a game. That the women out there on the track have accomplished something so much larger than each individual skater, than each team. The skaters at the 2011 Roller Derby World Cup have not only become ambassadors of their game, but they’ve become leaders, the front line of an unprecedented movement of women in sports. They’ve given the women of the world a unique voice in a chorus of oh-so-similar sports voices, created an opportunity where none existed, built a world-wide phenomenon that spreads daily and, most importantly of all, an international sport to call their own.

***For game-by-game recaps, please visit DNN to read Justice Feelgood Marshall’s bout analysis.

***To order DVDs of the 2011 Roller Derby World Cup (singles or sets) visit

THE FINAL STANDINGS (and first ever flat track roller derby International rankings)

1. USA (5-0)

2. Canada (5-1)

Canada and England finished 2-3 and played in a thrilling semifinal won by Canada 161-90. (Photo by Neil Gunner)

3. England (4-1)

4. Australia (4-2)

5. Finland (3-3)

6. Sweden (4-3)

7. France (3-4)

8. New Zealand (2-4)

9. Germany (3-2)

10. Ireland (2-3)

11. Scotland (2-3)

12. Brazil (0-6)

13. Argentina (0-4)


Argentina: SargenTina

The Iron Wench was Team Canada’s tournament MVP (seen here fighting through a USA wall). (Photo by Neil Gunner)

Australia: Short Stop
Brazil: Nanda
Canada: Iron Wench
England: Kamikaze Kitten
Finland: Kata Strofi
France: Francey Pants
Germany: Heavy Rotation
Ireland: Zola Blood
New Zealand: Skate the Muss
Scotland: Marla Mayhem
Sweden: Swede Hurt
USA: Joy Collision
Tournament MVP: Smack Daddy (Canada)

Pondering the Playoffs 1: WFTDA’s Eastern Regionals

Pondering the Playoffs

One Nerd’s reflections on the WFTDA Eastern Region Playoffs

The more things change the more they stay the same.

That cliché has never felt truer than after watching this weekend’s WFTDA Eastern Region playoff tournament. When it was all said and done, the same three teams (Gotham, Philly and Charm City) that represented the east at last year’s WFTDA championship were through again, but the group of teams they left behind could not have been more different, and they game they were playing continues to evolve in exciting ways: stronger, faster, smarter seems to be the theme of the 2011 WFTDA playoffs.

The Eastern Regionals were co-hosted by the DC Rollergirls the Charm City Roller Girls.

The first day was one of upsets and, eventually, upset. London Brawling became only the second international team to play in the WFTDA playoffs and the first European team to do so and they made a grand entrance. Despite their high power ranking from DNN, much had been made of their inclusion in the top 10 given their relative lack of sanctioned experience, but they quickly proved those skeptics wrong with a one-sided upset (160-67) over 7th seed Carolina. It would be the only upset on the opening day (the top four would advance), but it would not turn out to be the story of the first round.

After an impressive 198-117 victory over 9th seed Maine, 8th seed Dutchland made the controversial decision to forfeit their quarterfinal bout against Gotham to avoid the inevitable defeat and “remain fresh” for the consolation round. Condemnation of the decision was swift and harsh as social media sites exploded with criticism. The decision, made in the heat of the moment one would hope, is probably one that the team has come to regret, and while the criticism may have been extreme and perhaps even a little too harsh, it was a decision that rankled many because it ran counter to roller derby’s inherent “give it your all” attitude. With a wide disparity even at the highest levels of the sport, the key to a team’s development is to play against those better, and sometimes even much better. Just ask Steel City. They were the team that would eventually fall in front of Gotham in the semifinal on Saturday.  They were slaughtered by one of the largest playoff margins in history, falling 404-30. The second half was particularly harrowing for the Pittsburgh skaters as Gotham thoroughly dominated from pack to jammer. But in deference to the pounding, Steel Hurtin never stopped fighting and continuously adapted to what they were facing. Finally, on the closing jam of the bout, the Shocker managed to pick up the first lead jammer status of the half for Pittsburgh. Facing unspeakable odds she flew into the pack and took the full two minutes to claw and drag her way through to pick up 3 points (of only 7 in the half). When Steel City skated off the track they didn’t look like a team that had been pummelled for 60 minutes: they were exhausted, battered, but there was a particular glint in their eyes as they skated off the track, that undeniable glimmer of pride that comes from facing the impossible and not backing down.

Gotham and Philly's infamous "jam that wasn't" caused some jam-starting refinements that were on display this weekend.

As it’s been since the 2006 Dust Devil, at this early stage in the flat track evolution these championship tournaments are as much a process of sharing and dissemination than anything else. And with increased exposure and the ability to watch the bouts in high definition from anywhere on the planet, the importance of the WFTDA’s Big 5 in the continued development of the sport cannot be denied. The Eastern Region introduced what seems to be the next great strategic leap in the sport: the battle that occurs between the jammer and pivot lines. Particularly in the early going of the championship bout (but seen clearly all over the tournament), it became evident that how teams react in those first seconds after the opening whistle is becoming increasingly important in determining the outcome of the jam. More and more the battle was being taken directly to the jammer line and slow, grinding starts were the norm. There were times during the Philly/Gotham final when the two packs were like one undulating blob slowing inching its way to turn number one; then suddenly a jammer would pop out seemingly from nowhere to take lead. We also saw the end of “dead” starts (such as in this example of a “jam that wasn’t”), the bane of many a fan’s experience, as teams began to find creative ways to create a no pack after the initial whistle had already blown so as not to incur a destruction of the pack penalty (taking advantage of rule

London Brawling, featuring 11 Team England skaters, helped provide a World Cup preview.

But interest in the Eastern Region playoffs actually extends beyond just the WFTDA tournament cycle. Owing to the inclusion of London and Montreal in this tournament, more than any other regional playoff it offered a brief glimpse of what the inaugural World Cup of Roller Derby might look like. 10 members of Team USA played in the tournament (including five from Gotham alone), while the cores of both Canada and England populated Montreal (six Team Canada skaters) and London (11 of England’s 20). Thus, the consolation final on Sunday between the Skids and the Brawling offered a little bit of a preview of the two teams who many believe could be in the running for second place at the World Cup. England actually has a huge advantage  in that so many of these players play together regularly and have proven that they are playing the sport as well as anyone on the planet. Montreal once again showed that they have a certain tenacity and focus that allows them to always play a full 60 minutes of straight-up derby every bout and remain calm in the most stressful and dire of situations. And if that extraordinary 5th place bout (137-135 for London when they held on after being outscored 8-4 on the final jam) is any indication, there is a lot to look forward to when the world comes to Toronto in December.

Gotham has proven beyond a doubt that they are contenders for this year's WFTDA championship.

But the story to carry forward is that Gotham is the real deal. Last WFTDA champions in 2008, they’ve been relegated to the second tier of flat track in the last two years as the top western teams have dominated at the national level. But after a thoroughly dominant performance here that saw them overwhelm a very, very good Philly team in the final (252-97), there should be no doubt that Gotham is ready to contend.

**The highly anticipated WFTDA Western Regionals are next weekend.**

**For bout-by-bout recaps visit**