MONTREAL — While the roller derby of today might not quite provide the crazy and often violent entertainment the sport offered in the 1960s and '70s, the 24 women's leagues in Canada are a sign of its increasing popularity.
They have names like "Eves of Destruction," whose players are from Victoria, or "Fog City Rollers," from Saint John, N.B.
They belong to the Women's Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), the international governing body, which has leagues in North America, South America, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
This weekend, the spotlight is on Montreal as it hosts a big international tournament.
But don't expect to see a lot of violence. Along the way, roller derbies have become more professional and played on an oval flat race track instead of the older version which featured a banked track.
Brigitte Charest, a spokeswoman for the Montreal Roller Derby league, stresses the focus of the sport nowadays is on strategy.
"It's a full team contact sport like rugby, like football, where you don't just hit someone just to hit someone," Charest said in an interview. "It's a strategic move because you need to move that person to make someone take their place."
Charest says today's roller derbies are a far cry from the earlier hugely popular televised shows — "where they would do things to the other players, trip them with their skates and hit them in the face."
"That's not happening anymore. It's really different, it's more civilized."
She said the sport has reached a new level because it is better controlled with rules and penalties.
Charest started playing last year after attending an annual boot camp that is held every August for any woman who may be interested in joining MTLRD, the Montreal league. She goes by the nickname "Eye Roll," "because I roll my eyes a lot."
"The boot camp is three months, so you basically learn how to skate, to brake and turn and everything else you need to know," she said.
Montreal Roller Derby has six teams: three that play only at home, A and B teams that compete in international tournaments and a farm team known as "The Smash Squad." The A team is known as "The New Skids on the Block" and the B team is "The Montreal Sexpos."
The volunteer-run league was founded in 2006 and joined the WFTDA in January 2009.
Team members, whose average age is around 25, all have nicknames, like "Cheese Grater," "Miracle Whips" and "Lau Rider," whose real name is Laurence Lemieux.
Lemieux, 30, and the mother of a two-year-old son, is in her sixth season with Montreal Roller Derby.
She says it's now a very competitive sport with rules that prohibit shots to the head.
But Lemieux admitted she suffered a broken nose two years ago during a championship tournament.
"A broken nose and a concussion at the same time — that wasn't fun, but it's part of the sport," she said in an interview.
Lemieux wants to play a few more seasons and join Team Canada for the next Roller Derby World Cup.
Montreal's three-day tournament begins Friday and ends Sunday.
The competition brings together teams from Montreal, Texas, Jacksonville, Fla., and London, England.
"Texas is ranked number six, while Montreal is ranked 11th," Charest said.
"They play against each other to get points to try to beat those with high rankings."
The weekend tournament is named after Georgia W. Tush, who helped found the Montreal league, but is now retired.
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Basic Roller Derby positions:
Each team puts five players on the race track: a "jammer," a "pivot" and three "blockers."
Jammers wear a star on their helmet and are the only players who score points.
Blockers try to stop the opposing jammer from scoring points.
Pivots have a stripe on their helmet and are just like blockers but can become a jammer if they are given the star helmet.
Peter Rakobowchuk, The Canadian Press