Meet the young Irishman who wants to put rollerblading and ice skating on the map
IRELAND’s first participation in the Winter Olympics dates back to 1992, it was Ireland’s first winter participation, and it came 70 years after the first version of the Winter Games.
A lot can be attributed to lack of funding, infrastructure and temperatures as to why we don’t have more Winter Olympians in our history.
Since 1992, Ireland have only appeared in seven games, never sending more than six athletes and never winning a single medal.
Canada and France are more acclimated to young Olympic hopefuls, but one man aims to turn Ireland’s poor image on the Winter Olympics stage into a more successful one.
Meet Alexandre Beretta-O’Reilly, the sole flag bearer for the Irish at next month’s All Terrain Skate Cross World Championship.
Alexandre Beretta-O’Reilly was born in L’Isle d’Espagnac (France) and grew up in Paris to a French mother and a half-French half-Irish father.
Beretta-O’Reilly’s ancestors and paternal family hailed from Co. Cavan and as a child, the 27-year-old visited his grandmother’s home county. The extreme skater was a regular visitor to Ireland until the start of the pandemic.
“I used to visit my grandmother a lot, but unfortunately she passed away,” he said.
“I still have aunts and cousins in Cavan and Monaghan. I like to go once a year but with Covid it’s complicated at the moment.”
His attachment to Ireland was so strong that it was easy to choose between France and Ireland to represent a country in roller and ice skating.
France, for obvious reasons, has better inline skating infrastructure, compared to Ireland, but its ice skating lags far behind other countries like Finland and Austria.
The lack of infrastructure has also not taken him away from his desire to represent his Irish roots.
I asked the 27-year-old why he pledged allegiance to the tricolor.
He told me that the level of competition from France was an important factor, but he informed me that even if they had a smaller pool like Ireland, he would still have made the same decision.
“There are too many French riders, even if there were no French riders, I would still choose Ireland because I’m really proud to be Irish honestly. It’s a feeling that I love , representing Ireland is a nice feeling for me.
“I hope one day to win a medal or bring something back to Ireland if the opportunity arises.”
Alexandre was encouraged by his mother to rollerblade in the streets of France from an early age, despite his passion for tennis, table tennis and football.
The young man rollerbladed every day of his life until the day he stopped.
“I was a sporty kid growing up. I played tennis and table tennis in competitions, and also football with friends.
“When I was a child, my mother taught me to roller skate in the street, like another sport. I was rollerblading every day of my life, until the day I simply stopped.” says the extreme sportsman.
Beretta-O’Reilly would return to the sport years later when he picked up his first pair of skates in high school.
It became a hobby for the young man and would later become his full-time passion when he stumbled across a skate cross event in Lyon.
He was amazed at how fantastic the event was that it even turned his head. He entered an event in Lyon in 2015 the following year without any training and hadn’t looked back since.
Alex told me about his early memories of both sports and how much he grew up.
“The first moment of my first ramp, I had no experience. The ramp was three meters high. I was scared and I was shaking but I had the whole Italian team behind me. They were shouting ‘Come on, Alex, come on Alex.
“On my third try I got it. I always remember them saying well done when I finished and then saying ‘now do the whole piece, that was pretty funny.’
He has since climbed to ninth place in the 2018 WSX (World Skate Cross) Series World Rankings, qualified for the WSX Finals in Shanghai in August 2021 and the World Roller Games in Buenos Aires in July 2021.
Alexandre also finished his first season (2019) ranked 310th in the world and finished his second season (2020) ranked 123rd.
“It was the same for ice skating. I signed up for the international race with no experience, and it was downhill,” he explains.
“I remember not knowing how to break into Austria and it was terrifying, but it’s one that I always remember. I was like, okay, let’s go. I had to turn off my brain .”
Alex on his street art.
Alexandre treats inline skating and ice skating as a hobby, his daily work is that of a street artist.
When he’s not measuring himself against the best in the world, Beretta-O’Reilly enjoys creating street art and is often inspired by famous street artist Banksy and other famous artists.
“My goal one day is to paint a mural in every country and that’s an excuse to travel.”
I asked him if he would ever create art for his inline and ice skating helmet, he answered with a definite “yes”.
Alex on Competing at the Winter Olympics
Ice skating and in-line skating are not considered extreme sports, and newcomers hope to have it certified by the 2026 Milan Winter Olympics when it arrives.
“It really depends on me for that to happen. I need ice skating to be recognized as Olympic and I don’t know if it will happen before 2030. If it is recognized, I hope to get it. “
The Milan Winter Olympics are coming up in four years and I asked Alex if he was nervous about the big event. He had some tips and strategies for overcoming his nerves if it ever came up.
“I have a kind of mental preparation, so I have a bit of practice to get used to the race. It’s just trying to be in the moment.
Without any help or funding, Alexander seeks to become Ireland’s next sporting hero, like Brian O’Driscoll, Shane Lowry and others.
They are different sports, but the goal is the same to reach the top of their profession.
Sport Ireland and the Olympic Federation of Ireland (OFI) invest little in Alexander’s sport, and the 27-year-old has asked people to help him in any way they can.
“I have no funding. I am looking for sponsors,” he confirms.
“I want to train more and have access to infrastructure abroad. I don’t have the money for that now but I would like some help.”
He added: “It costs 20,000 a year for training and equipment, not to mention the flights.
“Any support on social media, anyone who can share links, I’d be grateful. I had crowdfunding, and it’s now closed at the moment, but I’m still accepting donations, that would be a big help. “
To learn more about Alexandre, or for sponsorship opportunities, you can follow him on his website, Facebookor instagram.