Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Roller hockey star: My only vice left is tattoos

By Natasha Maguder and Rose Hoare, CNN
December 7, 2012 -- Updated 1021 GMT (1821 HKT)
  • 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

More from Human to Hero: 'Lucky' F1 driver lost both legs and triumphed with Paralympic gold

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.

More from Human to Hero: Chinese sculptor Xiang Jing's painful search for truth

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."

Part of complete coverage on
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Olof Mellberg never lived out his childhood tennis fantasy, but he did achieve something millions of football fans around the world can only imagine.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1039 GMT (1839 HKT)
Sweden's former captain Olof Mellberg on his international career, the World Cup and enjoying the game more with age.
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1117 GMT (1917 HKT)
If you're aiming to land a top job at the world's most famous financial district, it might help to take up a sport -- but perhaps not the one you're thinking of.
April 2, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
He travels in private jets and is one of the world's highest-paid athletes, but Fernando Alonso does not forget his humble beginnings.
March 27, 2014 -- Updated 1211 GMT (2011 HKT)
Being blind has not stopped Verity Smith. The singer has starred on stage and written a book -- but she's most at home on a horse.
March 19, 2014 -- Updated 1534 GMT (2334 HKT)
Tai Woffinden's arms, hands, face, neck and shoulders are adorned with tattoos. But most revealing is the portrait of his late father on his back.
March 12, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
He established himself as one of the most famous American players in European basketball history -- and is still cooking up a storm.
March 5, 2014 -- Updated 1314 GMT (2114 HKT)
Sebastien Foucan has proved even more elusive than his acrobatic bomb-maker who was eventually blown away in "Casino Royale."
February 26, 2014 -- Updated 1435 GMT (2235 HKT)
Imagine hurtling down a mountain at 60 miles an hour. Now imagine doing it virtually blind. For Kelly Gallagher, it's a thrilling reality.
February 19, 2014 -- Updated 1945 GMT (0345 HKT)
Having suffered bitter disappointment on the running track, Jana Pittman is finding peace on ice at the Winter Games in Sochi.
February 12, 2014 -- Updated 1341 GMT (2141 HKT)
Sochi is preparing for an Olympic invasion -- but perhaps it didn't expect a former Soviet soldier to be leading the charge.
February 6, 2014 -- Updated 1308 GMT (2108 HKT)
The words no athlete wants to hear: "You can't ski anymore. Racing is finished for you." But, luckily for her, Fanny Smith refused to believe her doctor.
January 29, 2014 -- Updated 1259 GMT (2059 HKT)
"Blood was coming out of every hole in my body and I was completely unconscious," says French daredevil Xavier de Le Rue.
January 22, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Jenna McCorkell has been dancing on a knife edge since first representing her country at the age of 10. "How ice skating is evolving, it's insane."
January 16, 2014 -- Updated 2204 GMT (0604 HKT)
As power couples go, Gerard Pique and Shakira have the sparkle to supersede even Posh and Becks. But a bundle of joy means most to them.