Gotham Girls vs. Oly Rollers for the championship

BROOMFIELD, Colo. — The Gotham Girls Roller Derby All-Stars trained for four weeks in a hypoxic tent to mimic the effects of altitude. Then, a week before the Women's Flat Track Derby Association championship game, they arrived in Colorado Springs to run in the mountains and sprint through the thin air.

On Saturday, the sacrifice paid off as Gotham beat Denver's Rocky Mountain Rollergirls 187-139, and then on to beat The Texas Rollergirls' all-star team, the Texecutioners 195-113 in a semifinal.

"I definitely think it helped, and I think that part of the altitude thing is mental," said Fisti Cuffs, one of Gotham's skaters. "And it was really good for us to be able to come together as a team."

The Gotham Girls will take on the Oly Rollers in the national championship Sunday at 4 p.m. at the 1stBank Center. It's a rematch of a first-round bout in 2009, when Oly went on to win the national title.

Roller derby doesn't pay the bills for any of the women taking part in the 2011 WFTDA championship in Bloomington, Colo., so carving out a week to train meant negotiating with bosses and significant others, getting shifts covered or, in the case of Bonnie Thunders, having someone literally mind the store — she owns Five Stride Skate Shop in Brooklyn.

But it's hard to replace the feeling that Gotham jammer Wild Cherry got as she walked out onto the track in her first season with Gotham's All-Stars. Last year she was a spectator at the championships, but knew she was moving to New York. This season, she was in the jammer rotation with Bonnie Thunders and Suzy Hotrod.

She immediately felt accepted coming to Gotham and adds, "We're a fighting machine."

The Kansas City Roller Warriors will meet Texas in the consolation bout at 2 p.m. Oly beat Kansas in a tightly contested semifinal, 124-104.

In the final two bouts on Saturday, three of the final four teams had won national championships. Gotham won in 2008, Oly in '09 and Texas — the first league formed in the resurgence of roller derby — won in '06. Some players, such as Bloody Mary, have been playing since the start.

"At the start, we thought we were putting on a bit of entertainment, a local endeavor," said Bloody, aka Juliana Gonzales. "And that changed real quickly."

At the local level, with hundreds of WFTDA and unaffiliated leagues all over the country, there still is that element of a show. Their skaters wear more fishnets and face paint. There is some of that at nationals, but the predominant aesthetic is athletic.

Kansas upset Windy City — who won their North Central regional tournament — in their first bout of the day. Up against the Oly Rollers in the semifinal, Kansas trailed by 62-36 at the end of the first half but came back to lead by 20 before Oly's jammer, Atomatrix, put them back on top.

Playing defense was key in the Gotham-Texas bout. For example, Texas jammer Bloody Mary called off the jam after scoring just one point with the score 19-7 nearly halfway through the first period. Gotham slowly built up a 50 point lead, but Bloody Mary, on the final bout of the first half, scored 18 points and Gotham took a 75-48 lead into the half.

In the earlier bouts: The Texas Rollergirls defeated Minnesota 141-108, Gotham Girls topped Denver's Rocky Mountain Rollergirls 187-139, Kansas City upset the North Central region's top seeded Windy City Rollers 112-95 and the Oly Rollers beat Philly 181-95.

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