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Tampa is training ground for Team USA inline skating

Cotton Yarborough is one of five people from the Tampa Bay area on the national inline speed skating team.
Cotton Yarborough is one of five people from the Tampa Bay area on the national inline speed skating team.
Published Aug. 21, 2017

TAMPA — The United States once dominated the sport known as international outdoor inline speed skating.

It was the 1990s. Roller blading was hot. And out of that mania rose a Team USA that won the medal count at the World Roller Speed Skating Championships from 1991 through 1999.

If the United States is to return to those glory years, the journey will pass through the Tampa Bay area — home to five of the 24 Team USA members competing at the world championships Aug. 27 in China.

What's more, another three team members train and compete here for much of the year.

"It's a combination of things," said Team USA coach Renee Hildebrand, who lives in Bushnell but spends time in Tampa almost weekly. "The weather contributes a lot because they can train all year."

On any given Sunday, more than 50 inline skaters can be found racing around the giant parking lot at the Tampa Fire & Police Training Center.

"Everyone trains on their own," said team USA skater Jose Bordas, 25, of Miami. "But then on weekends we get together in Tampa on that police compound and turn it into an 800-yard track."

Team USA hasn't won the medal count at the world championships since 1999 and hasn't placed in the top three since 2010, when it finished third.

Still, coach Hildebrand said Team USA has grown more competitive in recent years. At the 2016 world championship, the team won six medals — up from three the year before.

International teams are made up of four squads of six, split by gender and age — junior teams for those 14 to 19 and senior teams for anyone older.

Team USA members who live locally are Serena Glover, 15, Spring Hill; Sabien Tinson, 16, Tampa; Cotton Yarborough, 18, Tampa; Dustin Hebson, 20, Weeki Wachee; and Jarrett Paul, 30, Tampa.

Those who live elsewhere but train in Tampa are Bordas; Katie Huffman, 17, Tallahassee; and Erin Jackson, 25, Ocala.

All but Yarborough and Glover are Team USA veterans. The most decorated member is Jackson with seven medals at the world championships since 2008.

This year, teams from over 50 countries will compete in races covering a variety of distances, as well as speed and endurance — the 100, 300, 500, 1,000, 10K, 15K, and 20k.

Two Team USA athletes from each of the four squads will be chosen for each race.

Who skates in which event will be decided once coach Hildebrand runs the team through time trials on China's track, which has a sleeker coating than the ones Americans train on.

During regular league competition, skaters who live in the Tampa Bay area primarily race for the Stardust Speed Club — part of the 12-team, indoor South Florida Speed League.

Frank Holland, a long-time inline skater who helps manage a few members of Team USA, said Stardust is made up of around 250 athletes, some younger than 5, who come from Tampa, St. Petersburg, Palm Harbor and Orlando.

He thinks there is room for growth.

"The sport has varied since its conception in the thirties," said Holland, 53, of Tampa. "It had a heyday in the 70s and again in the 90s when it was on ESPN and roller blading was a big household activity. We'll get there again."

In some South American countries, Holland said, inline skating is a national pastime and competitions sell out arenas.

"It's a really unique sport," said Cotton Yarborough, who competes on the junior team. "It's not in the Olympics yet but I think it will be. It takes as much strength and determination as any sport."

Contact Paul Guzzo at Follow @PGuzzoTimes.