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Roller hockey star: My only vice left is tattoos

By Natasha Maguder and Rose Hoare, CNN
updated 5:21 AM EST, Fri December 7, 2012
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Pedro Gil is one of the greatest roller hockey players in the world.
  • He has lead Spain to five World Cup victories and seven consecutive European championships.
  • He says sport is work, and his success is due to daily training.
  • Tattoos are a "vice": He has more than 40 which he says represent his strength.

Valdagno, Italy (CNN) -- It may not attract the TV audiences, armchair pundits and tasty endorsement deals that football does, but for Pedro Gil, roller hockey is everything.

"I live for this sport," he says. "It's a low profile sport, it's small, but for me it's the greatest thing of all."

As captain of Spain's roller hockey team, Pedro Gil has won five World Cups, seven consecutive European Championships and three Nations Cups.

Last year, Gil was decorated by the Spanish government for his services to sport, and invited to kick off a Real Madrid game. He has now represented his country for 13 years and says, "to wear your national team shirt is an indescribable, special moment."

I will never get tired of winning. It's the best thing of all. It's why we train every day
Pedro Gil, roller hockey star

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Roller hockey is played throughout Europe and North America, but is dominated by Portugal and Spain, who have won 15 world titles apiece since 1936.

Played with a ball (rather than a puck), on quad skates (rather than inline), and with rules similar to those of polo (rather than ice hockey), it is played at breakneck speeds.

"Last year there was a study which said that a shot with a stick in roller hockey is around 120 km [75mph] per hour," Gil says. "At 120 or 130 km per hour, you would hope we would score a goal!"

Gil began playing when he was four years old, the first in his family to take up the sport, which is especially popular in his native Catalonia.

Roller hockey star lives for his sport

"We used to live opposite the roller hockey rink in my village," he says. "One day I asked my parents to register me, and since then I started and never stopped!

"Every Saturday and Sunday, I went with my brother after he was born, and we were always at the rink playing."

By the age of 16, Gil was playing for Spain's winning team in the European Youth Cup, winning in front of a crowd of 8,000. He was 21 when he played his first World Cup match, beating Argentina on their home turf.

"I think those are my two most cherished memories of my sporting career," he says.

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The secret to Gil's success is devastatingly simple: "Always try to improve."

"For me, sport, first and foremost, is work. I've worked hard since I was a child, and working hard to perfect your best attributes is important -- because we all have weak points. Training each day on the weak points improves you as an all-round player."

"I never thought I would make anything of myself, and I've been fortunate to get where I am through hard work," he says.

I never thought I would make anything of myself, and I've been fortunate to get where I am through hard work
Pedro Gil, roller hockey star

"I don't know who I can thank ... I suppose myself, for my constant work and dedication."

Being one of the best players in the world only motivates Gil to train harder, he says.

"I feel a great responsibility. I got here through lots of work and lots of training, and lots of sacrifices."

Being captain also confers responsibility -- that of having "to show why you're captain." Gil says he has to be the first to training and must take novice players under his wing. Above all, he says, "as captain, you're defending your country!"

Although his dedication to roller hockey is absolute, Gil does allow himself one "vice:" He has more than 40 tattoos, including one depicting his old shirt number (nine).

"I started when I was very young, and bit by bit I continued with my vice," he says. "It shows my personality, my thoughts -- strong symbols, which represent the fact that I am a strong person and that I like to work hard and be strong."

Having played for Spanish and Portuguese clubs, Gil this year joined an Italian club he describes as "small in size, but huge in ambition:" Valdagno is a small mountain village in the north of Italy.

"It's a tiny place, but very welcoming, and crazy about roller hockey," Gil says. "It's the biggest sport in the town, which was my motivation for coming here."

At 32, Gil says, he is "getting on a bit," but intends to continue playing for as long as possible.

"Why not, if the coach still believes in me? If I can play until I'm 34, that would be great ... the more years, the happier I'll be."

"I would like to continue, and to help the team to more victories. I will never get tired of winning. It's the best thing of all. It's why we train every day."

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