The Australian sporting champions you haven’t heard of

In the early hours of last Monday morning, a team of Australian women became the first to ever become world champions in their chosen sport.

There was little fanfare in Australia, in fact there was barely a mention. But what these women achieved promises to boost the profile of Roller Derby on our shores now and into the future.

Smashing the Americans at their own game

Roller Derby is predominantly an American sport. But Melbourne's Victorian Roller Derby League (VRDL) All Stars could barely be touched as they romped to victory at the Women's Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) championship final in Philadelphia.

They tore Montreal apart to the tune of 154 points, pounded Denver 287-65 in the semi-final and then swept past Portland's Rose City Rollers 180-101 in the final.

Samara Pepperell, aka Lady Trample, was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player (MVP).

"My team has been working hard for years and I've been with them for the last two seasons working towards taking this out," she said.

What is roller derby?

Hell on wheels, basically. It is a full contact sport played on roller skates, with five women on each team. Each side designates a 'jammer', whose job is literally to jam their way through the opposition line. Break through and lap the opposition? You score points. The rest of the girls will ruthlessly do anything they can to halt their progress. Broken bones are as common as broken dreams. Definitely not a sport for the faint-hearted.

Melbourne's Victorian Roller Derby League (VRDL) All Stars won the Women's Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) championship

Melbourne's Victorian Roller Derby League (VRDL) All Stars celebrate victory

The history of roller derby

Back in the 1940s, this sport was massive. An audience of more than 5 million spectators soaked up the action from roller skating rinks across the United States. But then the sport went the way of wrestling. Over-amped personalities, scripted results and cheesy banter overtook the true combative nature of roller derby. It was fun for a while, but lost its lustre fast. The sport dwindled and became a retro activity limited to the ever-shrinking number of roller rinks around the US.

The revival

In the early 2000s, small leagues began to pop up again. Some elements of roller derby's colourful past remained, like the pseudonyms (like Lady Trample). But that was where the theatrics ended, with the girls behind the revival determined to establish it as a true sport. The resurgence of the sport was even honoured on the silver screen, with Drew Barrymore starring and directing the 2009 movie Whip It. Roller derby was even considered as a sport at the 2020 Olympics Games at one point. Tournaments are now live streamed and there are over 140 junior leagues in the United States, with male and unisex teams now competing as well.

And Australia is the best in the world, because of course we are.

About the Author Josh Alston

Josh Alston is a hack with over 12 years industry experience, covering sport across all codes for newspapers and online agencies. Known to frequent grade matches because of their cheap tinnies. Eventually graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism and a Masters in sitting on the hill when the local cricket side was playing. Softball premiership winner, rugby league legend in Year 10 and no stranger to Doomben Racecourse.

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