HISTORY OF THE IN-LINE HOCKEY WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
The IIHF In-Line Hockey World Championship is one of the youngest IIHF events, but one that has largely grown in importance since its inception in 1996. In-Line Hockey as a sport has grown rapidly since 1996 and now more nations than ever are fielding teams and the World Championship is becoming increasingly more competitive.
During the first three years of the IIHF In-Line Hockey World Championship, North American teams dominated the field. The United States and Canada finished in first and second place at each of the first three championships, which the United States played host to each year. Coincidentally, Team USA claimed the gold medal at both the 1996 and 1997 World Championships, with Canada taking home the silver medal.
In 1998, the format of the tournament changed and so, for the first time, did the gold medallist. The tournament was expanded to include two groups, one with the top eight teams in Anaheim, California and the other group, with the next eight nations, hosted in Bratislava, Slovakia. This was one of the earliest signs of In-Line Hockey’s growing popularity around the globe. Canada upset the two-time world champion and hosts, Team USA, for the gold medal. Meanwhile, Finland earned its second-ever medal at the World Championship, going home with the bronze. Meanwhile, in Bratislava, Sweden emerged as the champion with the Czech Republic and Slovakia finishing with the silver and bronze, respectively.
The 2000 World Championship was the first true shift in the standings to Europe’s advantage. Finland finally upgraded its bronze medal and went home with the gold after defeating the hosts, Czech Republic, in the final game. Team USA closed out the medal winners with a bronze medal. The 2000 World Championship also featured New Zealand for the first time ever. Chile was also in the world championship mix for the first time. Overall, the 2000 tournament had teams from four continents (North America, South America, Europe and Australia) represented.
In 2001, Finland won the gold medal for the second straight year, edging out the host again, this time, Team USA. The Czech Republic took home a medal for the second straight year, earning the bronze medal and again four continents were represented.
The Scandinavian squads dominated the last two years as Sweden and Finland met in the gold medal game in both 2002 and 2003. In 2002, Sweden emerged from out of nowhere to win its first-ever medal, which proved to be gold. The highest the Swede’s had ever finished in the A Group previously was fifth and it was just Sweden’s third season in the top Group. That year, Germany gave the fans in Nurnberg something to cheer about, earning its first-ever medal at the In-Line Hockey World Championship, a bronze medal effort. In 2003, it was Finland squeaking past Sweden in the final game, while Team USA returned to the podium, claiming the bronze medal.