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Gear Talk – Part One- By Ursula Hendel

Gear Talk – Part One- By Ursula Hendel

It’s the World Championships and its pretty darned exciting. All the stars are here and everyone is so fast you can get whiplash as they whizz by. But while most people are watching the skaters, I’m looking at their feet.

As a provider of speedskating equipment, one of the reasons I came to the Worlds was to see what the skaters were wearing. I’ve been counting boots, frames and wheels in my little notebook and I’ve gotten more than one weird look from a skater who was not too weary coming off the track to notice that I had a strange preoccupation with his gear.

It was a little easier to watch the custom bootmakers at work, ‘cause everyone watches them. Most of them are here – masters like Inze Bont and Luigino Verducci and his once-apprentice Sergio McCargo, and Davide Mariani.

What’s interesting is that they all have different techniques and theories about what makes the best boot. Sergio has a whole litany of fancy equipment like calipers and a plumb line and makes furious notes about the skater’s history and takes precise measurements of the feet.

Inze Bont does it all by feel and seems to have a particular confidence, although he is the only one who believes in casting socks. Luigino’s foot molding seems like artistry and there is something just shy of a sensuality about the way he wraps the plaster around a person’s foot.

But in talking to them, I discovered that ultimately they have similar ideas about how to make a perfect boot. They all pay a lot of attention to the alignment of the skater’s knees and legs and are correcting a general tendency of skaters to get too low when the casts are on. “You may think you skate like that, but you don’t” Inze gently tells one customer, reminding me of all the times during training sessions I thought I was skating impossibly low only to have the coach tell me I needed to get a lot lower.

They all also agree that there is artistry to the sanding of the cast after its been made. The boot needs to be squeeze the foot slightly in the correct places or the boot will be too big. Essentially, you need to sand away the fat parts of the foot but you need to know not to sand away the bony parts or the skater will be in a lot of pain. How do you tell from a cast that a foot is fat or bony? “By looking at it” says Sergio obviously. I guess these guys know their feet.

Since coming to Gijon, I have a new-found respect for the folks who make custom boots. This is not something you read in “bootmaking for dummies”. This is a form of art, and I walk away awed knowing I have just seen the masters at work