Saturday, February 4, 2012

History Lesson in Speed – The Forgotten Muse Brother!

aUSA speed skating has come a long way--there’s no denying it--and it would be safe to say that the sport encountered somewhat of a jolt around 1991 with the inclusion of inline skates changing the sport in many ways. One cannot help but wonder if Chad Hedrick would have done what he did (52-time inline world champion and Olympic gold medalist on long track ice) on quad skates had inlines never been introduced. Would Joey Mantia then have come along and won 28 world titles on quads? The best in the U.S and in the world on quads weren’t necessarily destined to dominate on inline skates, and only a few actually proved that either on quads or inlines they were still the world’s best! The Muse name in roller sports has been around for generations, but there’s one Muse brother known as the “KING of Quads.” We often forget who actually first ruled the inline scene on USA flat track speed skating, winning two consecutive U.S championships in Senior Men (92’ and 93’) and multiple world titles, all on inline skates, leaving not just some big wins but a legacy.

(Above; Dante Muse 1985 cover shot for Sports Illustrated
p.s. look at the height of that pylon!)
Dante Muse (Des Moines, IA) in the early ‘80s was quickly climbing the ranks as a freshman, sophomore and then junior. The (Jeff) Foster (1984 Senior Men U.S Indoor Champion) and (Rob) Dunn (1980-1982 Senior Men U.S Indoor Champion) era was fading and it was apparent who would pick up the torch quicker than anyone else in the U.S. Dante’s younger brother Tony (who later in his own right became a 17-time world champion and won multiple U.S national titles) wasn’t too far behind, but it was Dante that was blossoming rapidly into the star skater in the U.S. His personality & charisma was special & some would even say he definitely broke the mold. Spectators and fans alike would watch and stare while the golden child warmed up before a race just to get a glimpse of his supernatural abilities and wonder how this 145-pound kid with taped glasses always seemed to win races. His technique was more than unique as he skated half a body length to the inside (toward the pylon) of the track while near floating behind any skater ahead of him. The saying was “When the floor got slick from everyone skating on it, Dante still had fresh plastic to skate on because he skated on his own line or track on the floor.” He drafted so close to his opponent while matching stroke for stroke oftentimes literally stepping under the skater ahead of him without ever touching him or committing a foul. His passes were flawless at top speeds, and his opponents typically never knew he actually was there, but they also could never forget about him in any race until after the finish line because he was, indeed, always there! His style could not be mimicked even if someone attempted to mirror his body position on the floor. His races were talked about well after the competition by kids and coaches no matter the outcome. Practice drills at random speed teams were being named after him. He very seldom fell, perhaps once every five years, and it certainly wasn’t due to his own actions. He was absolutely one of a kind.

 (Above: Race action Dante Muse 1986 U.S National Championships)
(Above race action Indoor Nationals from left Carr, Glass & Muse -
Notice Dante's left skate after a double late pass)
The Iowa team coached by Dante’s older brother, Mark, was by far one of the most successful teams during the Dante era. Champion after champion emerged from the program and it would often attract other good skaters around the country to train with the world’s best in IA. In 1986, at just 20 years of age, Dante already had already won his first U.S senior individual indoor title and from there forward it often seemed skaters were racing for second place in Senior Men, as the fastest man on skates in the fastest division had first place secured. Five years later, while Dante was still at the top of his game, inline skates were introduced, and just like everyone else, he either had to get on board or pick another day job. With too much invested and the hunger burning more than ever to keep winning, he was out to prove he was still “KING.” In 1992 (first year of U.S Inline Championships) Dante proved he belonged and became the only athlete to ever win a Senior Men’s title on quads and inlines. Although he won these titles on separate years, it didn’t take away his status as one of best this sport has ever seen!

(above from left: Derek Parra, Dante Muse, Tony Muse 1990 U.S World Championships)

(above, Dante's coach & older brother Mark Muse 'left' & younger brother Tony Muse 'right')

With the hype of inline skates and everything changing literally overnight, one thing was certain-- the playing field had definitely been leveled in world class men. Hundreds of skaters became competitive in all divisions because the sport had just changed forever! So what happened to the King? Had he accomplished everything and retired from speed on his terms? I caught up with him recently, and here’s my interview with 14-time world champion, the "KING" Dante Muse.

(Above; Snell and Muse - pre-race  1500m final Pensacola, FL 1993 U.S National Championships)

(PS) So to start with the above about still winning on inlines before you slowly retired from the speed skating scene altogether and more toward life, family, a little aggressive skating, why do you think a lot of people have forgotten that you actually were winning at the world level ON INLINES before you officially took your speed skates off?

(DM) Pretty much my whole career was on quads. Yes, I won on both, but you have to remember, inlines were so new to the sport that it was like ‘the blind leading the blind.’ No one really made a bang until Chad’s unique style came along. It was then that everyone got overshadowed.

(above from right: Scott Hiatt, Doug Glass, Dante Muse, Derek Parra, Tony Muse @ the Orlando Classic)

(PS) When you read things like "Hedrick ended the Muses’ careers" or "the Muses tried to keep him off the team" blah blah blah, does that get under your skin at all?

(DM) In all fairness, I don’t think we tried to keep Chad off the team. Who was before my time or keeping me from making the team? Didn’t I replace them? That’s how sports and definitely how our sport goes. I’m happy with my skating career and where I am today. To each their own, right? Chad was an amazing skater. We both have the same internal drive to never give up or lose and I think we both respect that about each other.

(above from left Parra, Tony Muse, Joe, Chad Hedrick and Dante Muse far right- 1994 France)

(PS) When speaking of quad speed skating, your name rolls off the tongue first, especially when talking to ex-quad speed skaters. Do you think being the KING of quads is the reason why most forget about your inline success?

(DM) I believe so, but again it was new, plus sponsorships and there was just a lot going on.

(Above from left Tony Muse, Dante Muse, Derek Parra 1991 Belgium World Championships)

(above, 1986 Australia World Championships, Dante Muse leads the way)
(PS) I know you were a pretty laid-back guy OFF the track; did you feel that you had let your skating do the talking ON the track and just left it at that?

(DM) I honestly was too nervous to be cocky!

(PS) You won 14 world titles in your skating career: how many were quads and how many were inlines?

(DM) I definitely won way more on quads, but I don’t know the totals.

(Above: Parra and Muses celebrate gold in the WC relay 1991 Belgeum)

(PS) Guess I’ll look that up for you. And it’s nine on quads and five on inlines.

(above, Dante Muse 1990 Olympic Sports Fest)

(PS) Do you look at those differently today or is a gold medal a gold medal? When thinking about that era of transition to inlines, what memory comes to mind first?

(DM) Each title has a special memory for sure. When I think about the time of transition I remember no one really knew how to skate correctly and one thing was for sure, it is opposite of quads!!!

(above: Americans Glass, Dante Muse and Tony Muse far right, 1987 world championships)

(PS) When inlines were first introduced to our sport, I remember reading somewhere that you had made a comment (not favorable) about inlines and later had to apologize for it, but what did you really think when all this was taking place, especially since you were THE MAN at the time?

(DM) I don’t even remember the comment to be honest, I said a lot of things. The main group of skaters that started on inlines was the marathon skaters that didn’t really race indoors. I was an indoor skater hands down. I honestly don’t think there was that much respect, which made things really unpleasant in the beginning of that era.

(PS) What was the game plan for your team and Des Moines West when you guys realized just as well as we all did that without inlines you were not going to win races?

(DM) At that time we definitely had an amazingly strong team on quads. When inlines came into play, it was either switch or eat everyone’s dust! For sure it was a scramble for everyone because we weren’t just going to take a back seat, so our team had to basically start over with no real direction.

(PS) I don't think a lot of people know or remember this but you had a lot of trouble transitioning to inlines due to the mere fact that you have severe pronation, especially on your right foot. That thing caves or falls in about 40 percent compared to a normal foot. Nonetheless you still found a way to win. We know that you probably would have ridden your success wave a little while longer had it not been for this particular circumstance that you couldn’t control. Thoughts?

(DM) In all honesty, it was my constant struggle with my severe pronation that sucked the last will in me to continue racing. I survived as long as I did solely on my desire to not lose or quit. My father instilled this drive in me as my teacher growing up and I thank him for that every day, but yes, I just could not get my pronation problem fixed.

(above - U.S World Team selection 1993)

(PS) We rarely witnessed you fall in races even when people would fall around you or try to knock you down. How were you so agile on quads and inlines?

(DM) I learned to skate before I could walk literally. My brothers and sisters used to put skates on me and pull me around in my saucer walker. My father was my first coach. Our house was built into our first rink, so I REALLY grew up on skates. I did all disciplines until I was 11 or so, then I chose just racing. My father really broke down the structure of weight transfer and body structure. I believe that it was the combination of growing up on skates mixed with some God-given talent.

(above: Tony & Dante Muse (age 16)

(PS) You stopped skating indoor speed well before you retired from the sport altogether-- is that an accurate statement? Can you get more specific as to what those timelines were or the reasons behind them?

(DM) My last world championships were in 1994 in France. I continued racing occasionally outdoors for my sponsors I had at the time. I also was flown to Italy, South Africa, and Australia to teach and help their programs. My last indoor race was in 1996 indoor nationals. I competed on both quads and inlines. I believe I completely retired in ‘98 or ‘99.

(above from left: Chad Hedrick, Dante Muse, Gicquel - 20K elim track race and Dante's last world championships)

(above: last Orlando Classic in 1991 on quad skates, Muse in middle on 1st)

(PS) Speaking of sponsorships, you started and skated most of your career well before sponsorships were a part of our sport. You were fortunate to get a taste of both, but mostly 'no sponsorships.' How do you think sponsorships have affected our sport? Do you keep up with speed at all these days?
(above, 1993 International Event.  Dante Muse in far right of pic)

(Above: Dante Muse makes the Sports Illustrated Kids cover at 18 years of age)

(DM) With sponsorship definitely came more races and more obligations (at least for me). I started losing precious training and personal time. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed racing as a sponsored skater, the adjustment was just really difficult for me. There was no more racing for you. It was 100 percent--a different dynamic for sure. I felt it became who could field the biggest team at each event. In my opinion I think team skating should only be allowed at the world events. As far as keeping up with the sport, I pretty much disappeared in ‘98 or ‘99 by design. I don’t feel I retired on my terms, so sticking around was just killing me! I think I could watch and enjoy it now though :)

(Above: Dante Muse in 1995 Team Hyper)

(PS) Occasional race between you & brother (Tony)?

(DM) I don’t think Tony wants a piece of me! lol --no seriously, he doesn’t.
(above from right, Tony Muse, Dante Muse)
(PS) Speaking of Tony, he's still pretty active with speed, especially outdoor racing in the Master categories, hitting up the big marathons here in the States and doing a little cycling as well. Did you think he would still be going today and does it ever spark a flame in you to go fast again? Tony is also pretty vocal and opinionated about our speed governing body, Team USA selection process etc., while you, on the other hand, have been extremely quiet. Is that all by design or do you have thoughts on any of this?

(DM) That is great he still competes and enjoys it, good for him. I wish I could. The last time I had inlines on (other than my aggressive skates) people were wearing 80 mm wheels. As far as my thought on skating, I wish there was much more involvement like from my era.

(PS) I remember reading this article years ago from Sports Illustrated titled “A Sibling Rivalry On Wheels” – v.10.03.88 - SI Vault, and it was still interesting to read today because it talked about how you went about your training (skating two to three practices a week) while Tony and the rest of the world were skating twice as much, riding a hell of a lot more miles on bikes, wearing their lucky Underoos when they raced, okay, okay, minus the Underoos part--maybe that was someone else, but the point being that you were naturally so dang fast and no one could figure it out! Granted you skated a line on an indoor flat track that no one else did, which was an advantage no doubt, but we all know that wasn't only it. Thoughts?

(above leading the pack in 1986 at the world championships Dante Muse)

(DM) I was given a talent and I worked really hard. Practice was 110 percent every practice, that was what made the difference. I’ll give you an example and Tony will agree. At practice, and say it’s a 30 lap race. I tried to lap everyone as many times as possible, not just once, but as MANY times as I could. Why not just wait and throw out the juice with three or four to go or rather throw that last second pass that didn’t seem to exist??? I THREW IT! That’s just how I thought about racing! On the other hand, if I trained too much, I became very tired both physically and mentally. If I could not give 110 percent, then why do it?? I practiced not just my racing skills, I mentally trained and I honestly think that gave me an edge. Hope that all make sense?

(PS) We know you drifted to the aggressive skate scene right after speed. What was your big attraction to that genre of skating? I understand you're still doing it (some) and you're pretty dang good at it? Have you competed and/or will continue to compete?

(DM) I always used to see the ramps at different events. It looked so fun. I actually skated a few times on my speed skates. One day at our rink, one of our young speed skaters was grinding our curb. It looked so fun! He said I should try it out. I put his skates on, and that was it. I guess it filled the void I had at that time of my life. I’ve been doing it for about 13 years. I have competed a few times, but I just do it for fun at this point in my life.

(above far left Dante Muse @ 89 World Championships in New Zealand)

(PS) How long have you been playing roller derby? From what I've seen so far and heard, you're pretty good at that also. Derby is not all about speed, but I know it comes in super handy. What are your thoughts on derby coming from a speed background? Your roller derby team name is called “Your Mom.” Your derby name is ‘Tinker Bell.” Tony is “Peter Pan.” I obviously see the pun in this since I personally know you guys, but how do you explain to everyone else who doesn't know you guys? What's the next step for “Your Mom” (well not ‘your mom’ literally but you know what I mean  :)?

(DM) I first started coaching a team that my wife Romina plays on. I started a men’s team in February of 2011. I love derby! For sure my life of skating has helped out a bunch in regards to helping my team and I in derby, there’s no denying that.

The story of the team name “Your Mom”-- my friends from the rink and I run and play dodgeball once a week on skates for about 2 hours solid. When we heard about men’s derby, we talked about making a team. When deciding on a name, it was easy. We guys used that phrase on a regular basis. It seemed so funny. As for our derby names, we wanted to stay with the fun and funny names theme. We decided on foo foo names. We picked Tony’s name. He didn’t really like it at first, but I think he is ok with it now. It’s not too bad right??? We played a couple games before our brother Mark started coaching us. We are all back together again, it’s really nice and yes, we’re doing quite well in MRDA and plan on going all the way this year--hopefully injury free. (Note: since this interview Dante has had his first knee surgery since starting derby and is recovering quite well.)

(above from left; Dante, Mark and Tony Muse 2/19/2011)

(above: Men's Roller Derby Team 'YOUR MOM')
& props to my buddy Seahorses Forever lol

(Tinker Bell)
(PS) Since you're on your quads so much with derby, would you ever come back one year to skate quad speed nationals? Not too farfetched right?

(DM) I actually skated three or four practices last year. I would consider racing on quads again; I just need to have more time on my skates. I have not trained like that for about 12 years or so. Oh wait, I never really trained, right? J I currently have my skates on about five to six days a week, but it’s not training. I think I just need the right push to finally do it I guess!

(PS) You got married in 2006? One child, correct? Lorenza? How's family life? Do you own and run one of the family rinks these days?

(Dante & his daughter Lorenza Muse)

(above: Lorenza Muse almost 4 years old showing off her amazing balance)

(DM) I got married in 2005. My wife, Romina (ex-Italian world team speed skater and current member of the (Des Moines Derby Dames) and I run one of our family rinks here in Des Moines, IA. It’s called Skate North Incrediroll. We have an almost four-year-old daughter named Lorenza. She started skating when she was ten months old. She has got amazing balance (like her mama).

(Above; 5th from left, Romina Muse skating for Team Italy in the 90's)

(above, Romina 'left' wife of Dante Muse 'right")

(PS) Fondest memory when you look back at your speed career?

(DM) Everything!

(PS) Miss anything about speed?

(DM) I miss everything! I really do!

(PS) What's the best advice you would give someone that wants to do what you did with your career whether it's speed, aggressive or roller derby?

(DM) Advice? You’ve got to love it. As I said before, I did other sports growing up but in the end I chose racing, because I simply LOVED IT!

(PS) I want to thank you for this interview and it's great to hear from you and all your fans will certainly appreciate it greatly. Hope we can continue this another day or see if we can answer some questions from a few of the Dante clan. Thanks, Dante, you’ve been a great friend along the way and best of luck to you this season with Atom Wheels and Your Mom! :)

Well there you have it, Dante Muse uncut! Stay tuned as ATOM Wheels connects you to the world's best right here at ATOM WHEELS. If you really want to be in the 'know'. Make sure you 'Like' us on Facebook.  See you soon!

Pete Snell
Atom Wheels Inline Speed on Facebook

p.s. thanks to Ami Raynor :)


mac daddy said...

Dante is not forgotten in my book, Whenever I seen him in my program or in my Heat race it was gonna be all out fun!! at least that`s the way I looked at it! early 80`s was the most fun for us...He was one of the only other guys I can remember, other than I (MARK CADWELL)that used to make a last second pass or between pylon pass almost every race!! I think it was in 82 in a race we passed each other a different way every straight or a few corners of every lap and smiled at each other at the finish line!! looked back and we where a quarter lap ahead of the pack!! Dante was the Guy to beat back then.. Tony wasn`t quite there yet.. LOL but he sure made up fast in the late 80`s... wouldn`t change those times for nothing.. Sincerely, Mark Cadwell 79 and 80 four boy champion and 82 sophmore two man second place

Timmy Lee said...

OUTSTANDING article about one of my biggest idols!

Anonymous said...

Nice job. Great to hear from Caldwell also

Greg McGoffin said...

this is what I'm talking about, why can't we get more stuff like this. it's exactly what our sport needs. HISTORY! because today's sport of skating are a bunch of prima dona's I swear

Beni Todd said...

what a cool article about a cool dude that we all looked up to

Anonymous said...

Nice read, Dante is and was always King!

Unknown said...

I remember watching Dante Muse when I was a young kid. One time in particular on a 100 lap race Dante pasted everyone on the outside corner and then started to walk away from everyone lapping most of them if not all of them! It was really amazing to watch. Thank you Dante for the memories.

Anonymous said...

Dante was and still is the KING in my book! awesome article.