In 2018, Tarik Igbad of the Czech Republic was crowned World Rollerblading Champion. Little is known of this diminutive and foreign genius, but his enthusiasm and dedication to his craft are an example for rollerbladers everywhere.
In 1997 at the age of fifteen, Tarik’s father sold all the family’s worldly possessions to buy his only son the birthday gift of his dreams. Initially, Tarik’s progress was slow, and his father began to have second thoughts about the decision, but in October 1998 he was rewarded when Tarik learned to stand upright on the wheeled skates.
Tarik’s confidence began to grow, and by late 1999 he could be seen shuttling up and down the street outside their house in the suburbs of Prague. All the children in the neighbourhood would line the filthy pavements, beating sticks against the gutter and cheering as Tarik weaved along in his favourite yellow bobble hat and blue skates.
Egged on by the crowd, and with an eye to impressing local teen beauty Ivana Belzak, Tarik attempted his first stunt. It wasn’t a pre-planned affair, just a daring spur-of-the-moment lunge for greatness. Cast down in the road was an empty tin of kidney beans, lying on its side. Passing by to check out the situation, Tarik ‘bladed up the road, made a full turn and began his run up. He built up a good head of speed, a Mexican wave of cheering urchins following him, and leapt ebulliently into the air.
A year later, after recovering from the broken collarbone and shattered knee, Tarik Igbad was ready to rollerblade again. Yet now the streets were empty. Even Ivana didn’t emerge from her front door to watch him. This made him all the more determined. Day after day he practised, leaping over chalk marks scribed in the road, until he was ready to try the can of beans again.
It was a bright warm day in June 2001 when Tarik began that run-up again, trying to banish the memory of failure from his mind, not daring to gaze into windows, to try and look past curtains, to wonder if anyone – especially his beloved Ivana – was watching him.
He cleared the tin by a full half-inch and punched the air in delight. Now he was ready for the big time.
Buoyed up, he coasted back to the site of his jump and cast the empty tin aside. Things were going to get serious. He went over to the pavement and fetched his second obstacle; a spaghetti tin. He laid it on its side and powered off for his first run.
Tarik has always candidly admitted that his first attempt was aborted, his mind distracted at the last minute by the colourful writing on the can’s wrapper. But he was not to be beaten, and on his second attempt he sailed majestically over with five-eighths of an inch to spare. He was ecstatic. He was also level-headed and knew not to push himself. He drew a line under that greatest of days and went to bed, almost tearful with joy.
A fortnight later, and with curtains undeniably twitching in the houses that lined what was fast becoming his arena, Igbad jumped the spaghetti tin with it standing upright. By the time evening came and his margin of clearance had bettered an inch, he was sure he saw Ivana Belzak’s face outlined behind her thin bedroom curtain.
By the following week, with an almost showy Tarik having graduated to two tins side-by-side, Ivana was out on the pavement, watching again, and the number of local children joining her grew day by day. It was late October when, after his first successful attempt to clear a hurdle two tins deep, Tarik finally got up the courage to speak to his beloved, and that night, whilst still wearing rollerblades, the new local hero lost his virginity down by the stagnant canal backwater.
By early 2003, and with Ivana now a constant companion, Tarik Igbad progressed to yet more amazing stunts. Quickly he’d mastered jumping diverse obstacles such as four spaghetti tins in a row, two bricks arranged in an inverted V, and a miner’s helmet. Kids were coming from nearby streets to watch, and even his parents had stopped beating him. Late in the year he held a demonstration event, charging a small entrance fee, and used the proceeds to help buy a new pair of ‘blades to replace his very worn blue set.
Everything snowballed from there. There was the odd injury, notably a broken finger when attempting to jump a line of pre-cooked chickens, but he was already the talk of the city and much of the country too, signing autographs and resisting the temptation of groupies.
To celebrate his engagement to Ivana in October 2005, Tarik held a charity event, jumping, amongst other things, a Yamaha motorbike (upright), a disused lawnmower, a bus queue, a bus queue where the participants hadn’t been pre-warned, and the Minister Of Finance in a leotard. For the grand finale he whipped the crowd into a frenzy before jumping over three women dressed as John Dory blanched in milk with a herb sauce and steamed asparagus.
Now famous across Europe, Tarik undertook a world tour to thousands of screaming fans. It was not without incident though, nor controversy. In Milan he grazed both palms after landing awkwardly following his signature jump over six men with red hair holding jars of honey. Far more notable was the now infamous “Thames incident” which occurred during his spell in England.
Grandstanding, Tarik claimed on 17th June 2008 that the following day he would jump the river Thames. Crowds lined the London Embankments, their mood anxious but excited, waiting for the incredible stunt to play out before them. Tarik, however, occasionally prone to the odd practical joke, was talented but not insane. At 2pm he proudly jumped the river a few miles from its source in England’s heartland, clearing the fifteen inch stream with ease. The protestations of fair play were as loud as the cries of ‘foul’, but Tarik, although he left England knowing he could never play there again, retained his mantle.
From stunt jumping, he eased smoothly into competition and his prize money rocketed. Ivana his wife was always by his side and in late 2010 he bought her a square mile of the Pacific Ocean just two hours flying time from the Galapagos Islands and had it marked out with buoys in vermilion and chestnut, her two favourite colours. She knows she can go there whenever she wishes.
As new World Rollerblading Champion, Tarik hasn’t changed much. He’s still blonde and blue eyed, loves his fans, wishes his parents would accept him, and is always looking for a new challenge.
And he still carries that empty tin of beans wherever he goes.
Find a longer chuckle in my humour writing compendium of offbeat short stories on Kindle :The Real Jamie Oliver and other Stories