Gotham crowned; derby declared winner
When Emily Langmade first strapped on skates for roller derby in 2003, she couldn't have imagined the heights the game would reach a decade later.
Langmade, who started her career in her home state of Arizona with Tucson Roller Derby, eventually moved to New York, N.Y., and became Fisti Cuffs, a hard-hitting blocker for the four-time champion Gotham Girls Roller Derby.
In the 10 years in which Langmade has been playing competitive roller derby, both she and her team's head coach, Aaron Goed, have seen the game transform from a raucous, unconventional version of sports entertainment to a world-class sport that demands top-level strength and physical fitness from its players, not to mention a rigorous training regimen just to stay viable.
"We got involved [in roller derby] in the very beginning because it was fun, it was glam, fishnets and rock 'n' roll," Goed said. "But as soon as the interleague game got going and teams from across the country were competing against one another, it was clear that how hot your fishnets were had nothing to do with how good you were on the track."
The commitment that Langmade and her Gotham teammates have made over the years has paid off.
Gotham claimed its third straight roller derby title Sunday evening at the Women's Flat Track Derby Association international roller derby championships, held at the U.S. Cellular Arena in downtown Milwaukee.
Gotham, which beat the Texas Rollergirls 199-173 in the final, has won the Hydra trophy four times overall. In the meantime, the sport has gone international, sprouting upstart leagues in places as far away as Australia, New Zealand, Egypt and Russia.
In December 2011, the first roller derby World Cup was played in Toronto and featured 13 countries, including the United States, France, Argentina and Canada. Team USA won the final 336-33 over Team Canada.
Julie Brandt-Glass, who skates under the name Atomatrix for Arizona Roller Derby, was part of the Team USA Roller Derby that won the first World Cup.
"The WFTDA has done a tremendous job growing the sport in the last 10 years," Brandt-Glass said. "I am excited for the next World Cup and getting to see how many more countries are involved."
The second roller derby World Cup is scheduled to take place in Dallas in December 2014.
Brandt-Glass, who has won more than a dozen inline skating world titles and is a member of the recently selected 2014 World Cup roller derby team, thinks roller derby has caught up not only to other skating sports but also has grown to a competitive level on par with other competitive international sports.
Supporting that theory, the 2013 WFTDA championships were international for the first time. The London Roller Girls crossed the Atlantic to become the first league from outside the United States to qualify and participate in the event.
And while Gotham stormed to the title last year practically unopposed, the team was pushed in both its semifinal and final bouts this year.
Against Texas in the final, it wasn't until the final 13 minutes when Gotham -- led by stars Suzy Hotrod and Bonnie Thunders -- took command for the 199-173 win.
Brandt-Glass, who played against Gotham in the 2011 and 2012 finals with her former team, the Oly Rollers from Washington, pointed out the parity at this year's championships. Even in the semifinals against B.ay A.rea D.erby, Gotham had to fight for a 174-125 victory.
"[Saturday's] bout [versus B.ay A.rea] made everybody's eyes open," Brandt-Glass said. "[It] showed that Gotham is absolutely better than ever -- more fit, more unified than ever -- but potentially beatable."
Langmade recalls Gotham's first cross-country affairs in 2006 and 2007.
"Our first season I remember looking at other teams like Oly and knowing there was no way that we would outskate them," Langmade said. "We went home and worked on stopping and starting, basics, then eventually strategy."
Langmade says the sport as a whole has grown stronger as it expands to different countries and attracts better athletes.
"We've learned from other teams, their skating styles, and [used it in] our training and what Gotham needs to work on," Goed said. "The score of the final bout and that close a margin of victory shows that everyone in the sport has gotten better and that competition is serious."