Rola Derby

By bogotapost August 20, 2014

 ¡BONBON! ¡BONBON! What’s going on? It sounds like an army of sugar-starved giant toddlers screaming for sweets, but more careful listening reveals the truth – a Colombian interpretation of “bone.” For these are the raucous supporters of Bogota’s feared ‘Bone Breakers’ – the capital’s, and therefore the country’s, second-best Roller Derby team. Since time immemorial (well, a few years ago) they’ve been the perennial whipping girls for the Rock & Roller Queens, losing in the finals of a succession of tournaments. But now … it’s halftime in the final of the Torneo Nacionál and they are leading their rivals 73-64, an encouraging yet potentially fragile margin.

For those of you unaware of this fine activity, Roller Derby is a female-dominated sport. The referees, and occasionally the coaches, are male, yet the players are almost always female.  Like most tournaments, the Nacionál is only for women’s teams. The play basically involves two ladies in starred helmets going hell for leather again and again straight through a bunch of other women trying to block them, resulting in plenty of crashes and smashes. There’s no doubt it’s a contact sport and many players seem to revel in making big hits. Essentially, it’s like watching a football or rugby player jink through a defensive wall, but every 30 seconds, providing non-stop entertainment.

We caught up with organiser Rathalia for the lowdown on the Torneo Nacionál. Rathalia? “Yes, because in this sport it’s very important to have a nickname. Everyone uses them. My real name is Nathalia, so it’s a play with words to make Rathalia. They call me Mother Rat, because really I’m like a mother to many of these girls, and also the league, the sport here in Colombia.”

How many teams are there, and who do they represent? “We have 11 teams from five cities [Bogotá, Ibague, Palmera, Buca and Medallo] in total. Two more had to drop out, sadly, so we replaced them at short notice with Bogotáno teams.”

With six from 11 hailing from DC, is that a problem? “Well, yes. We’d like to have more teams from more cities, but it’s not always easy, especially because this year the Torneo Nacionál is here [in Bogotá]. To be honest, the level of competition in Bogotá, with two internationally competitive teams and a number of up and coming rivals, means that the Bogotá teams are at a much higher level.”

What about the Yankee ref? “We invited him to make it clear that the refereeing will be impartial and to avoid claims of a Bogotá bias. Professor Murder is a pink level ref, the highest there is, and he brings professionalism, neutrality and experience”.

What about the sport as a whole in Bogotá? “Well, it’s not like many other sports. We work hard to make it a community as much as a sport and a conflict. It’s difficult to be friends with rivals, of course, but we try. You should come to the party tonight and you’ll see how important having a beer afterwards is! We’re open and we respect and admit everyone. Lots of the girls have tattoos or piercings, but they’re not pre-requisites. We’re open-minded: for example, there are lots of lesbian players. Lots! The referees too, many of them are gay.“

“I think it’s feminist and feminine, but a type of femininity that we’re not used to seeing in Colombia. For this, I say it’s a revolutionary sport!”

What about the sport itself? “It’s a women´s sport, with men. Most sports are the opposite. We’re also not copying anything, this is all organic. I think it’s feminist and feminine, but a type of femininity that we’re not used to seeing in Colombia. For this, I say it’s a revolutionary sport!”
But for now, the events that will lead us back to that half-time excitement. The semi-finals were a capital affair, the first being the hot favourites Rock & Roller Queens (RRQ) against the unfancied Fugativas.  Fugativas’ lack of experience was shown in that they featured the tournament’s youngest player, at just 14 years of age.  While they have plenty of enthusiasm and no small level of skill, in the end experience told and The Rock and Roller Queens stormed to an impressive 234-94 victory.
The second semi-final was closer, featuring Bone Breakers against Combativas Revoltosas. This was a brutal and bruising encounter as Bone Breakers deployed a succession of rough blockers that Combativas simply had no answer for. Only Mony Masacre seemed to have any way past the wall of blockers such as Block-Buster, Peli-grosa and Moonsun Jump, and it wasn’t enough to carry the Combativas through. Dominatrixia even had to leave on a stretcher, so hard was the match.
Defeated Combativa blocker Xevill Nemezyx briefly spoke to us afterwards: “It was a brutal game,” she confirmed, “because they are the second best team in Colombia, filled with power, agility and speed. We are considered as the third best here, but it was not enough.”

In the third-place play-off, both Fugativas and Combativas gave their all in a keenly contested last game but in the end the extra experience of the Combativas told, and they easily won. 202-74 despite key blocker Malpis being stretchered off. The game was another brutal one, featuring plenty of big hits and dirty looks, especially from Fugativas’ China Heraje, who seemed more keen to knock people over than actually score points.
So on to the final: the Queens against the Breakers. After a few initial back-and-forths, the lead stayed with the Bone Breakers until halftime. Inspirational jammer Tsunami had been somewhat off-form for the Queens, barely registering a point and being repeatedly sin-binned. For the Breakers, they were relying on a solid line of blockers to restrict the Queens. How long could they keep it up? After the break the Queens skated back to tie 77-77 within 5 minutes of the restart, before the Breakers chalked up 23 unanswered points to establish a commanding lead.

Despite the efforts of the Queens, especially Ereshkigal, probably the only sportswoman in the world to be named after a Babylonian Goddess, the gap was too much, and jammer Karma managed to rack up a cricket score despite having just two blockers to help her. In the end, it was fitting that undoubted player of the match Nuza was the one to run time out, leading 140-119 whereupon she launched herself onto Rathalia with such force she flattened her!  All around, various Bone Breakers fell to their knees, hugged each other, and yes, cried a little.

English sensibilities not dealing well with emotion, I instead talked to Rose Ramirez, an injured Queen. “It’s sad of course, “ she told me, “because it’s the first time we’ve lost a tournament, but also I’m happy because the girls played well. It’s no shame to lose to a team at this level. So, we’ll train more, improve, and come back even stronger and tougher next year!”

Could there be a contender from outside the capital? “Yes, I think so, but not for a few years. We already see that the other cities are stronger this year than last, and with more and more competition, experience, well, they’re going to charge the batteries. It will be very hard, but it’s possible. All in all, this has been a fantastic tournament, even if we didn’t win. This is like a community, a village, and each team is like a family within that.”

By Oli Pritchard