World's Roller Derby Elite Jam into Milwaukee for Championship
Roller derby teams from around the world are in Milwaukee through Sunday, competing for the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association championship.
The event, held at the U.S. Cellular Arena, is hosted by Milwaukee’s Brew City Bruisers club, which as host does not compete.
"This is probably the biggest roller derby event that you could have anywhere in the world any time of year," says Angela Johnstad, a Brew City Bruiser known on the track as “Terror Lipinski.”
Johnstad says teams must qualify to participate, and the championship represents the top 12 roller derby teams in the world.
She says roller derby has become well-established across the country. Some teams have been around for years, like Milwaukee's Brew City Bruisers (started in 2005) and Chicago's Windy City Rollers (2004). The latter team is participating in the championship.
As the sport grows in popularity, Johnstad says the technical skill required for the sport has improved.
"When we first started playing roller derby, it was very much 'go fast, turn left, go fast, turn left,' which is you know just as basic as you can get," she says. "The sport has developed now where as there's so much need for physical agility...that the technical improvement of the skills have had to just skyrocket as each team has gotten stronger and stronger."
In fact, that ability to cut from side to side quickly on skates is leading one roller derby player to expand to another sport: speedskating.
The Chicago team's jammer Sandrine Rangeon has played with roller derby teams across the country and in Canada, but now the French native is training in Milwaukee in the hopes of becoming an Olympic short-track speedskater.
"It's interesting; I have not a lot of experience in speedskating, but I thought, 'Well, if I want to make it to the Olympics one day, I have to do speedskating," she says.
Rangeon says both sports require agility and quick feet. But a major difference between the sports is in the skates themselves; speedskaters must balance on the edges of a thin blade, while derby's quad skates provide a bit more stability.
Another key differences between the two sports? The hits.
"In speedskating, it's more about skating the track a certain way to block someone from passing you, but you don't go out of your way to hit someone - at least not on purpose," she says.
Rangeon hopes to qualify for the short-track speedskating team for the 2018 Winter Olympics.