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Less Wrestling, More Sport In Roller Derby World Cup

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This weekend in Texas - speed, thrills, spills, crashes, raucous crowds. The second-ever Roller Derby World Cup Championship screeched into Texas this week. And member station KERA's Courtney Collins is our eye and ear on the smash-up.

COURTNEY COLLINS, BYLINE: The names are what first grab you. Each member of each team takes on a derby name. Slamurai, Enemy, Tantrum, Pippi StrongStocking.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Yelling) Get your arms out of the way. Yeah.

(CHEERING)

COLLINS: The women skating in the Blood and Thunder World Cup have a certain bombastic style. On team Japan, a skater wore dramatic red lipstick and painted her face with stripes to match. Then there was the referee wearing skates, kneepads and what looked like a short school uniform skirt.

NIKKEE BOYLE: Originally, I thought like, oh, I love roller skating and these girls are so cool and I want to be like them.

COLLINS: That's team Australia's Blockadile Dundee, a.k.a. Nikkee Boyle.

BOYLE: I kind of realized that it was a sport after I saw them playing. So yeah, you kind of get fooled. You get roped into it.

COLLINS: These athletes train hard. A lot of them skate for hours a day, seven days a week. And it shows. They're tough. Just how tough is obvious when you sit and watch a match, here, called a bout.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Announcing) Mad Malooney now on a scoring pass...

COLLINS: Let's break this down. Each roller derby team has five players on the track at a time, four blockers and a jammer. Each time a jammer navigates past a blocker, that team scores a point, which often leads to contact.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Announcing) Big hit from Samuel L. Smackson...

COLLINS: Roller derby has come a long way since the Nixon administration when it first got its start [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this story, we incorrectly say that roller derby started during the Nixon administration. In fact, the sport was originally created in the 1930s.]. Short skirts and plunging necklines have given way to uniforms that look like cycling suits. Bouts are no longer fixed and you don't see as much contact as you used to. Tackling isn't even legal anymore.

LARRY HOPPER: I think what it is is people always think back to roller derby back in the '70s, when it was on the bank track and it was more wrestling than it was sport.

COLLINS: That Larry Hopper, one of the Cup's organizers. He says their first event in Toronto three years ago featured 14 teams. Thirty countries sent teams this year.

HOPPER: The U.S., Canada, Australia, France, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa's here.

COLLINS: It's hard to say which fans are the most rabid, but the enthusiasm award might go to the Aussies.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing) We come from a land down under.

COLLINS: Take it from team member Cookie Cutter, who also goes by Dominique Omdahl.

DOMINIQUE OMDAHL: We have chants for every single person on the bench, on the track, in the stands.

COLLINS: Lynn Klas, derby name Juke Boxx, is a member of Team USA. She hopes events like the World Cup will change the perception of roller derby.

LYNN KLAS: There's not that many full-contact sports, if any, for women that you can get involved in and play on a pretty competitive level without having played your entire life.

COLLINS: It's not a spectacle, she says. And despite her skater pseudonym, she's not playing a character. She's an athlete fighting hard for the win and a place in Sunday night's final bout.

For NPR News I'm Courtney Collins in Dallas.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROLLER DERBY SAVED MY SOUL")

UNCLE LEON AND THE ALIBIS: (Singing) Go go roller girl. Look at that girl roll. Roller derby saved my soul.

SIMON: BJ Leiderman does our theme here on WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: December 6, 2014 at 12:00 AM EST
In this story, we incorrectly say that roller derby started during the Nixon administration. In fact, the sport was originally created in the 1930s.