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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Deis student heads to Taiwan for world roller skating championships

Published: November 16, 2007
Section: Sports

Wei Sum Li 10, straightens her computer screen and presses play on a video;

suddenly a group of skaters are moving in perfect synchronization across a rink. However, instead of the ice that one might expect, the skaters are gliding effortlessly across a hardwood surface.

Li has the video stored on her hard drive because, like the skaters on the screen, she is a member of a competitive artistic roller skating team.

Its like ice skating, but warmer, she joked.

Competitive artistic roller skating, in which the skaters wear quad skates like those that used to be available at the local roller rink on Friday nights, is a team sport tangentially related to figure skating and synchronized swimming.

Lis team, Star Shine, which is based out of Tyngsboro, Mass., has qualified to participate in the 2008 artistic skating world championships, which will take place in Taiwan. The team is composed of skaters from all over the northeast United States, with members from Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. At the world championship, Star Shine will be representing the northeast United States region.

For Li, the world championship will be the culmination of a skating career that began when she was seven years old.

There was a rink near my house, explained Li, and I had a seventh birthday party that came with six free lessons. So I took the lessons and I kept going.

Lis team placed third at the national championship to earn at trip to Taiwan. Now, though, Star Shine is faced with the task of raising enough money to finance the trip, which will take place next November.

The way the U.S. does it, it gives us a full year to gather ourselves, said Li. Seeing as roller skating isnt one of those headline news sports, we have to do a lot of fundraising. Li also explained that the sport is significantly more popular in Europe and South America, with the Argentinean and German teams the perennial favorites.

Lis brand of artistic roller skating, called precision, involves teams of 12 to 20 skaters moving simultaneously across the rink in a five minute choreographed routine set to music. Teams are then judged on a variety of elements, particularly the cohesion of the team, and its ability to move together.

The difference between synchronized and precision is that were not allowed individual elements, so no jumps and no spins. The judges prefer more unified motion, said Li. The judges sit as high up as they can in the rafters, to see the formation from above. The elements are categorized by point values, so when youre flying backwards at each other, you get more points. Currently there are 13 members of Star Shine, but the team is looking for up to three more skaters before the competition in Taiwan.

In order to get a team of more than one dozen skaters to move as a fluid unit, Li and her teammates will spend months working on their routine, and learning the movements necessary to fill five minutes.

It takes months of choreography, explained Li. [The coach] pretty much throws us out there, and we start at the beginning of the music. She basically just starts positioning us, plans the main elements and adds footwork. She added that things dont always run smoothly in the learning phase, and that weve had some pretty crazy crashes.

For Li, the chance to go to Taiwan was enough to rekindle her desire to be on a team. She had dropped out of the sport upon entering college, in order to focus on being a student.

Ive been to nationals five times, but this will be my first time in the world circuit, Li said. It was enough to pull me out of retirement. I told my coaches that I would focus on schoolwork, but given the opportunity to be on a world championship team, I came back.