Alright, this post is late. It’s the holidays, and I’m getting lazy. It’s New Year’s Day, and I haven’t had a shower since Christmas. I haven’t gotten out of my Captain Kirk bathrobe in over a week. And when I saw that picture of The Bieb toking a J, I was ready to cut the laces off my boots and never skate again. Or not…
This is the last installment of the Larson Trilogy: Episode III. And I was a hair’s width from starting this off with a really weird version of the Return of the Jedi opening crawl, but instead, I’ll just stick to the facts.
First, this. Another record for Jim Larson. Episode II of The Larson Chronicles generated the single largest traffic day this blog has ever seen, breaking a record set by a post on Joey Mantia set back in 2010. When Joey was contacted at Olympic Trials in Salt Lake City, just before he’d made his first berth on the 2014 U.S. Olympic Long Track Team, he was asked if he’d said something like, “Congratulations Jim, on breaking a record I didn’t even know I held. I truly didn’t see that coming. At all.” He didn’t respond. Nonetheless, it’s a milestone on this site, thus another record in front of me with Larson’s name on it. So it goes…
We’re done with the small talk intro, let’s get to the story. We’re meeting for the last time, and I’m determined to get the information I need. How am I ever going to beat this guy? The last ditch is the gutter I’ve sunken to. My clever and cunning line of questioning has devolved to an offer of cash in exchange for his secrets.
FirstLoser: We meet again Jim. Tell me, what’s it going to take to get you to quit? I’ve made up my mind, I won’t come back till you’re gone, till you’ve failed to achieve your goals. How long is it going to take?
Jim Larson: [Standing, raising his hands and looking at the sky] I must be allergic to failure, cause every time I come close to it I just sneeze, but I just go atchoo, then achieve! You ain’t getting rid of me son. I’m here to stay. I’ve given too much, and I’m not done yet.
FirstLoser: OK, I’m not getting anywhere with this. Clearly, you’re still getting something out of racing and skating. With everything you’ve been through, you keep coming back for more. The ups, the downs, the injuries. It’s got to be pretty powerful stuff. Along those lines, what’s the best thing that’s ever happened to you as a result of all your skating?
Larson: Believe it or not, in terms of the sport itself, I would have to say teaching myself to be disciplined. Mental preparation is huge in this sport, the positive focus both on and off the track, indoor and out. And this goes with things in everyday life too.
FirstLoser: You’ve been at it a long time and you’ve done so many things with it. Of all the “ups” you’ve ever had, what’s the greatest?
Larson: That’s easy brother. The best thing to ever happen to me is my wife Denise. She’s known me since I was 7 years old man. I was able to talk her back into skating and the rest is a Cinderella story. We’ve been happily married now for over 13 years! So If I had to say the best thing, yes Denise is the best!
FirstLoser: That’s awesome, truly. All joking aside.
Larson: Yes sir, she is.
FirstLoser: But back to the sport. Taking the elder statesman’s view, what’s the best thing to happen to the sport in the last few years in your estimation?
Larson: [Looking off into the distance, like Richard Gere in awe of his technology in Movie 43] I feel the best thing to happen in this sport is that it’s still here! That’s saying a lot, considering that for every one skater coming in, two go out. It’s a war of attrition man, and we’re on the wrong side of history on this one. Really brother. The worst thing happening in this sport are it’s numbers. They’re the inverse of what they need to be. Skater numbers are getting lower, costs are getting higher. I’ll leave it at that.
FirstLoser: OK, look Jim. There’s been a lot of talk about the state of the US Inline program, and it’s generally not so positive. There are a lot of folks that long for the glory days past. Being a guy that’s pretty close to the epicenter of the establishment, your opinion matters. What does the US program need to do to get back on top in Inline?
Larson: This is a tough question, because there’s such a wide spread in the level of athletes we have. The talent spread, the mental action, the focus, the positive energy, the coaching, the drive, all have to take place at elite levels. We’re just not there with our program anymore, and all of that needs to take place together to put us back on top! To get back there is not going to happen overnight. Some say we need more bank tracks built, some say we need to travel to other countries and learn or compete with them.
FirstLoser: But what do you say?
Larson: I say neither. 30 years ago we still had the same amount of tracks we have today, and we did everything here. Other countries were coming here to see what the U.S. was doing. The question of the day that the world was asking was “how could they beat us?” We were the force to be reckoned with. No one was beating the USA in practically any race! I’m not exaggerating. So where is it going? Let me ask you this. What is the mentality of our society today? One word: our country has gotten used to being LAZY! I say this, if you want to do well, if you want to make the US World Team, win a medal at Worlds, then get off the couch, put down the freaking smart phone and go train! Go outside, go play, go skate, hit the gym, make a plan! Don’t wait for your friends to call you to go skate or train, take the initiative and go do it yourself!
FirstLoser: Seems pretty straight forward, but you know, in many corners today, that’s a tall order. Especially when the only way to do anything beyond the federation is to leave inline altogether and go to ice. Which makes me think, why have you never made the transition to ice?
Larson: Simple: too friggin’ cold! [Laughs] No, on serious note, I did try ice for a little while, back in the late 90’s. I dabbled in it for about a year or so on the short track scene. I liked it, but trying to swing both inline and ice just didn’t fit in my budget. And at that point, I was getting into it with a late start. At that point I just decided to follow my heart and concentrate on Inlines. Wheels are in my DNA. But if I’d stayed with it, it would have been to chase a title on ice as well.
FirstLoser: Well, there’s another topic that’s been burning up Facebook lately, and that’s the “Super-Team” concept. The idea that local clubs are dying because all the talent aligns with larger regional teams for relay opportunities. You’re someone who’s indulged in this, drinking from that fountain in many differnt regions over your career. What’s your take on the subject? Good or bad for the sport?
Larson: I really and honestly believe that the term “Super-Team” is a little overboard. I don’t blame skater’s for joining up with another club to make a relay team better, or a so-called stacked relay, but only in this direction: that I believe it creates competition, creates more entries on a regional or national level. Or if a sole skater doesn’t have any relays at all from the club he or she skates for, just as I’ve done in the past. When I first started on Inlines and one of the home town clubs folded, I really didn’t have anywhere to go, so I set out on my own to better myself as a skater and a person. I didn’t have any skaters my age, they were either all older or way younger. So I filled in on some Senior Relays at Nationals in my first year skating on Inlines, in a Senior four man relay no less! Talk about a rude awakening! If you could only imagine how I felt starting right next to World Champion, “Turbo” Keith Turner in the heat.
FirstLoser: [Laughs] And tell me, you beat him and set a freakin’ record, right?
Larson: Haha…*BAMN* [upside my head with his copy of Eminem’s latest CD] No, we didn’t make it out of the heat. So right there was a hint for me as a late Classic skater, not to try and skate in Senior Relays anymore. But since then I’ve skated a few, and I can honestly say I’m seasoned and can give those youngins a run for their money! So as for creating a “Super-Team”, on the flip side of the sole-skater argument, I’d say to a skater that’s seasoned and has had their share of National titles, participating as a Junior or Senior World Team member, or even a Medalist, I’d say stay home and build the team around yourself! Don’t do the “Super-Team” thing. I was once told that, and we have tried, but I’ve chosen to skate elsewhere at times because I’m essentially a sole skater. Denise and I are here in Springifled, IL and as a sole skater I’ve had to chase opportunities. I’ve been a part of Front Range out of Cheyenne WY, and had great relays too. I’ve also been a part of Emerald Coast, teaming up with David Weber, in which we placed in Master 2 Man twice even with a title. I’ve skated out of Wichita with Team United, and from there having gone back to Capital City Racing out of my hometown before heading off to Team Fast Forward. With Fast Forward, I have helped a lot of those skaters achieve their goals. I assisted in their training and together we placed at Nationals, with some making the Junior and Senior World Team. I can also say that I know how some coaches or even other skaters feel about some of these clubs getting skaters from other teams and making their teams stronger. I’ve been on the flip side of that and have been on the floor with other relay teams, thinking we had a shot at a title, just to lose to a team that was thrown together with all great skaters, in a two man, two mixed, or four mixed or four man! The reality is, it happens! Do I frown on it? Well, no, not exactly.
FirstLoser: But do you think it’s fair, I guess is the question.
Larson: Well, it’s fair to me because I feel that the ones that complain or are against it could have built a team as well, so the field is out there to draw from. There are plenty of dedicated skaters that would do this sort of thing in practically every region. Look, I really don’t know if there is a right or wrong answer to this one. If we want to throw the word “recruiting” in there, we could do that. Is that right? Well, why is it wrong? Some of these skaters that make friends in this sport and skate against each other all year, they tend to talk and comments get made that sound like this, ”hey man, you should skate for us next year,” or “we would make a great two person relay and, we would have so-and-so for a four person! This is so typical. But how is it controlled, or how is it stopped? Nah, we can’t stop it. It’s going to happen, and keep on happening. For those that are really so concerned, there are rules set down by USARS on switching teams, but you know, rules are set to be bent and have grey areas that are manipulated. We always find loopholes to get past the rules! I don’t need to go any further than that because most clubs have done this anyhow, with recruiting or soliciting skaters from other clubs, building those “Super-Clubs”, “Stacked-Clubs”, “Super-Teams”, whatever name you want to put on it. Bottom line is this, whatever your speculation is as a coach or skater, it happens, and there’s nothing we can do about it. All’s fair in love, war and inline speedskating!
FirstLoser: As someone who’s heart and soul bleed for this sport, what gives you the most personal satisfaction in your skating career these days? Is it winning a medal, breaking a record, watching skaters you’ve coached move on to greater achievements? What’s the most gratifying thing you take from skating?
Larson: Oh man! It’s another simple one! My personal satisfaction is winning! I’m not happy if I am not winning. But winning to me personally doesn’t mean coming in first all the time. Winning to me is doing the best that I can do on that particular day, or in that particular event. Yes, coming in first adds to the excitement, but coming in 2nd or 3rd or even say, top 6 in a tough indoor race or outdoor race with who’s who in the race, and I’m good brother! And to jump on what you said, the greatest achievement has to be watching my niece, (Megan Gillis) who I coached, and watching her first World Championships, and watching her winning a silver medal! If any coach can experience this and have that opportunity, it’s a total high! Such a great feeling knowing that your investment in coaching a kid pays off when they go out of the country to skate against the best in the world, it’s a treat! Yeah, that would also have to be the gratifying experience as well, truly. Plus coaching, what is it? It’s me giving back all the tools I’ve put in my tool box. It’s giving those tools to a skater, or a bunch of skaters, and watching them put those tools to use and be successful at doing so!
FirstLoser: OK, so I’ve been having a lot of fun with you through this interview, but we really haven’t touched on the shtick I started out poking at when we started this: your injury last year. How are you coming along with your injury? What are you doing as far as rehab? Training? Healing?
Larson: I’m actually healing up pretty well. I’ve been back on my skates, Inlines and Quads, for about two months. I began on my Quads, just rolling around and going to the gym, riding a bike and working out upper body and such for core strength until I was released from the doctor to do full weight bearing workouts. Rehab went really well for me. A lot of the rehab I was able to do on my own, and I still doing what they gave me to do. A lot of my training is low and slow drills, from double backs, buckets drills, circle drills, pace lines, you name it. Starting out on my quads helped me quite a bit since the wheels are out wide for stability and balance. As far as my Inlines, I really have to concentrate on my balance and technique to help aid in strengthening my right leg. At first pushing hurt pretty bad, but the pain is basically gone now and I’m returning to skate the track to build my base back. So all in all, I’m coming along pretty well. But I want to circle back around to something we talked about earlier.
Larson: You asked about goals. My goal for this year, it’s to win the 2014 National Titles in Veteran Men’s this year in Lincoln, Nebraska. And yes, that would be on both Inlines and Quads!
FirstLoser: Hmmm, I think I’d still be in the Masters division, so OK, that’s cool, go for it. But before I let you go here, I want to touch on a topic that’s been gaining some steam here, namely, 125mm wheels. What’s your take on 125mm wheels?
Larson: Yeah I have seen some threads and product development on the 125mm wheels, and the frames from a one of the major players in the business. I had a chance to chat with Powerslide’s Michael Cheek the other day discussing the direction and the performance of these monstrous wheels. Mike explains to me the grip is beyond that imaginable of the others (100’s & 110’s) and that it took a few practices to get the hang of the power and the roll. But once he was able to maintain technique, he could maneuver like he was on rails. He’s assured me that even a skater of our build, the size wouldn’t hinder our performance once we got used to them, in which case it wouldn’t take long. Knowing the manufacturer producing these wheels, I can really say without a doubt that they will work and work well. But, of course the downside to the big size is that there is a wheel restriction size at the world level, set forth by F.I.R.S and the C.I.C. 110mm wheels are the largest right now. As far as indoor for USARS here in the U.S., I believe the restriction is set to 110mm wheel in any regional or national qualifier. NSC can do what they want, and I hear they’re thinking about them. But before everyone goes out thinking bigger is faster, because that’s how shallow thinking a lot of coaches and parents think, be careful making that purchase without doing the research first! I personally feel that with 125mm wheels hitting the market, we’ll see a lot more at the larger outdoor events here in the U.S. Maybe not at first, but I believe we’ll see it grow by the time the Northshore Inline Marathon hits again in September. Tell you what. If I’m doing well by then, I will probably be on bigger wheels if given that opportunity. The roll has to be phenomenal outdoor, with a solid wheel like that under your feet! So my take on the 125mm – simple: strap up or get left behind!
So that’s where Larson stands. Jim Larson isn’t done with this thing yet. He’s right in step with where the line’s going next. He’s finding his line again, and you can bet he’ll do everything he can to go out on a flyer and be in top shape for Nationals this year.
As we wrap up our time, we discuss and idea to keep this dialogue going, and to expand the conversation. That is if I can keep talking. I’ve lost three teeth during this interview process and I’m starting to get the shakes. That aside, there are plenty of guys and gals out there that have something to say in this family of ours, this inline community (pool of talent for the USOC) relevant to breathing new life into OUR sport.
So I rubbed some more whiskey on my gums to numb the pain and agreed to bring these skaters forward with Jim, to get the discussions off the private message boards and out into the social media space, on Facebook, where all quality content belongs. Because as much fun as it’s been to goof around in between questions here, at the heart of this dialogue is our passion for the sport. If you’ve made it through reading this far, you share that passion, and we’re going to bring you more.
So hang on tight, get down low and get ready to get in pace with us Off The Track. It’s a new take on an old idea, and it’s time has come again. This isn’t over, it’s really just begun. Join us: OFF THE TRACK