RetRollSpective – Thunderbolts

Hello and welcome to another RetRollSpective, where we reflect on the history of marble sports teams that have appeared in the tournaments of Jelle’s Marble Runs. This time, we’re roaming the skies to get a glimpse at the Thunderbolts, a team that has been around since the 2016 Marble League. Read on to find out how this team has stormed the competition!

The official logo for the Thunderbolts, designed by Tim Ritz.

Bolta, Bolto, Boltu, and Bolty, the four original members of the team, are all from the twin cities of Thorston and Stormholm. They met at a mythology convention in 2012 where they all dressed up as mythical creatures of the sky. When they tried to communicate with each other, each realized that they couldn’t speak. Through roll language, they found several things in common including their affinity for racing. Each member had aspired to compete in marble sports, but their inability to speak made it difficult to find a team. Upon meeting each other, the possibilities flooded in and they began planning for their athletic careers. No sooner had the four left the convention that they had already decided on their team name: the Thunderbolts.

The team joined the Knikkegen Marble League later that year and rose through the ranks, peaking at second where they finished in 2014 and 2015 behind the Screw Blades and Team Primary respectively. The team became known as one of the fastest teams in the league, and by the time the 2016 Marble League was announced, was one of the top teams alongside Team Primary and earned an invitation to the tournament. The Thunderbolts did not want to be known as “the team that couldn’t talk,” but as “the team that always shocked the competition.” And that they did; the Thunderbolts’ achievements in competition prove that any marble can overcome adversity and shine on the podium. Regardless, this did not mean that the team members had easy lives. It was only after three years of competition that the Thunderbolts allowed interviews with the press, where the now-former team members disclosed this information with us. We hold the utmost respect for them for sharing.

Striking the top step.

The Thunderbolts had a banner year in the 2016 Marble League. They struck quickly, earning their first medal during the second event when the team took a bronze medal during the Relay Run. They followed that up by claiming their first gold medal in the Collision event and rose to first place overall. Another silver came after Bolta reached 97.6 cm in the fifth event, Long Jump, and a fourth medal followed via a bronze in Team Pursuit. In the final event, they added one more medal, a bronze in Hurdles, to finish with five medals in twelve events. While much of the attention seemed to focus on the close win of the Savage Speeders against Mellow Yellow in that final race in Hurdles, few viewers noticed that Bolto was just two-hundredths of a second behind Yellup, 5.36 versus 5.34 for the latter. Up until the Hurdles event, the Thunderbolts had been in between first and second place since the fifth event, but at the end of the 2016 Marble League, the Thunderbolts fell to third overall: tied with Mellow Yellow in points, but just behind them in medals.

A photo finish that many consider to only be between the Savage Speeders and Mellow Yellow…

The Thunderbolts automatically qualified for the 2017 Marble League by way of their third-place finish in the previous season. The team started the season well enough, placing eighth in Funnel Spinning and earning a bronze medal with Bolty’s 71.0-centimeter performance in the Long Jump. 

At this point, the team was fifth in the overall standings, which, as the tournament progressed, would be the closest they would get to the podium. The Thunderbolts dropped to tenth after Fidget Spinner Collision and had yet to recover by the ninth event, dropping further to fourteenth place.

The Thunderbolts’ first of three bronze medals earned in the 2017 season.

The Thunderbolts mounted a small comeback in Archery, where they scored another bronze medal and earned a third with Bolta’s run in the final event, the Sand Rally. The Thunderbolts ended in twelfth place overall, a far cry from the podium which they had stood on in 2016, but the team was still grateful for their chance to compete, shying away once again until the 2018 Marble League Qualifiers. 

The team was sorted into Group C; their third-place showing during the Snow Race and first-place in the Halfpipe event allowed the Thunderbolts to storm into the 2018 Marble League with high hopes. These hopes initially seemed dashed with Boltu’s fifteenth-place finish in the 5 Meter Ice Dash, but Bolto’s fifth place in the Ski Jump and the team’s fourth place in the Halfpipe reignited hope for the Thunderbolts.

The Thunderbolts’ first gold medal since 2016.

It all built up to the fourth event, the Bobsled: where the Thunderbolts earned their first medal of the season and their first gold medal since 2016. They rose to second place in the standings, expecting excitement, but there was very little if any: Team Momo’s injuries seemed to draw far more attention from the marblebase.

In the latter half of the season, the Thunderbolts remained in the top eight of the standings, with two more bronzes to their name thanks to Bolto in the Snowboard Cross and the entire team in the Biathlon. The championship seemed within reach for the team, but during the final two events, the Thunderbolts placed in the lower half of the standings. This, coupled with a finish in dead last during an earlier event, Curling, caused the Thunderbolts to fall just outside the top half of the standings and finish in ninth place overall after the 2018 Winter Marble League.

During the offseason, the Thunderbolts continued with a mediocre array of finishes. They were one of seven teams that did not finish in the 100 Meter Water Marble Race, and they did not make it past the initial heat of the Amazing Maze Marble Race. It seemed as if this could be the first year that the Thunderbolts would not qualify. 

Little did we know, there were major changes on the horizon for the team. During the 2019 Marble League Qualifiers, it was revealed that a new team member, Lightning, represented the Thunderbolts in Funnel Spinning. The team had another new member with Shock as well, who competed in the Underwater Race, and was joined by Thunder, Bolt, and Zap for team events. The Thunderbolts asserted their newfound energy and qualified for the 2019 Marble League in ninth place, with forty points to their name. The team was one of seven to have made it into all four Marble Leagues so far, an impressive feat regardless of place.

“We were faced with an unprecedented predicament,” Thunderstorm, the team’s coach and manager at the time, explained. “All five of the original members had enough at the end of the 2018 season. Their hearts weren’t in it anymore, and I could tell that they just wanted to live life again. They retired, and I recruited five of my trainers from Thorston to hop onboard the team. They have prolific experience: Lightning competed individually in the KML, Thunder and Shock competed in the Tour de Vellis against the Speeders, Zap is a rising star in their own right, and Bolt is Bolty’s cousin.”

“Honestly, though, we had no idea how big the shoes were that we needed to fill,” Bolt conceded. “Not that marbles wear shoes. Except for Marblegs. Sometimes.” When pressed for further questions about Marblegs, a marble thought to be a myth for centuries, Bolt declined to answer.

The Thunderbolts’ first–and only—podium in the 2019 season.

The Thunderbolts entered the 2019 Marble League as a rookie team in everything but name only, and started well, building from its energy seen in Qualifiers. Lightning placed sixth in the Underwater Race, Shock placed fifth in Funnel Spinning, and the team, after setting a Marble League record in Balancing, had its record broken by the Hazers and earned its first silver medal since the 2016 season. The Thunderbolts moved up to fourth place in the standings, tied with the Green Ducks on points and medals but behind on countback.

Unfortunately, save for a fourth place in the Relay Run and a sixth-place by Thunder, the team’s captain, in Surfing, the Thunderbolts were unable to get above seventh place in the remaining eleven events, and steadily fell towards the bottom four in the standings. The team’s worst finishes were two back-to-back events where they placed dead last, with Lightning’s DNF in the Dirt Race and the team’s slow and unsteady Rafting run sealing the team’s fate. At the end of the next event, the Thunderbolts were officially locked out of winning the 2019 Marble League, and they finished the season three events later in thirteenth place overall and 119 points earned.The Thunderbolts’ hosting bid for the 2020 Marble League was denied in favor of Team Galactic’s bid. The team, dejected, returned to Thorston to train for the 2020 Marble League Qualifiers. A few months later, they received an official letter from the JMRC, which invited the Thunderbolts to compete in the first season of Marbula One. The team was shocked, but accepted the invitation without much hesitation, with Shock and Bolt submitted to represent the team in the tournament.

The official promotional poster for the Thunderbolts in Marbula One Season 1, designed by Jack Ironhide.

The Calm and then the Storm

an addendum by Roilan

After seven months of intense training, Shock, Bolt, and coach Thunderstorm flew to Vellis for the start of Marbula One. The high expectations they placed on themselves didn’t come to fruition in the first half of the season. Despite Bolt’s fifth-place finish at the O’raceway, the Thunderbolts sat in 13th place overall halfway through. It looked like they would continue their declining performance. 

However, the season turned around in the second half. At Greenstone, Bolt qualified in a season-best third position and looked to improve on that in the race the next day. For a while, it was a battle for second, but an outstanding fifth lap, the fastest lap of the race, by Bolt closed the gap on Orangin and Bolt was able to take the lead through turns 2-4. Orangin would get the last laugh with an overtake on lap 8, but Bolt claimed the silver. Shock replicated the feat in front of the home crowd at the Short Circuit GP. After qualifying eighth and falling as low as eleventh, Shock slowly started making their way back through the field. Most of the race was spent oscillating around sixth place, but Shock put it in high gear with two passes on the final lap to claim the Thunderbolts’ second consecutive silver medal. After a couple more bottom-half finishes, the team ended the season in eighth, their best finish in competition since 2016, and went back home to train for the 2020 Marble League.

Twin silvers by Bolt and Shock.

The Marbula One team went home to the news that their new training facility, just on the southeast outskirts of Thorston, was complete. Built to accommodate the harsh storms in the area, it had indoor and outdoor training options and stands as one of the largest training facilities on Marblearth. It was designed by Avalanche, an architect from the nearby city of Osnow, who designed many famous and exquisite buildings across the region. 

The momentum from their strong finish in Marbula One carried into Qualifying for the 2020 Marble League. There was nothing flashy, but consistent top-half results in each of the four events ensured their fourth-place finish in the Qualifiers, making their fifth consecutive Marble League.

Unfortunately, they couldn’t convert that into success in the Marble League. The Thunderbolts found themselves in the bottom four in three of the first four events, and the trend of average finishes continued throughout the competition. One bright spot of the tournament came in Event 15, Collision, where the team took silver and earned their first Marble League medal in 27 events.

As the Thunderbolts ascended out of their heat, their fans were holding their breath. “I was a part of the team in 2016,” Bolty recalled, “and we were undefeated in our heat. This year’s version of Collision was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before—complex and tactical. There were so many close calls, but the team hung on.” Bolt, cousin of former member Bolty, trained using a specific maneuver that allowed them to remain relatively untouched in the center of the arena, spinning in place to arrest their momentum. Bolt implemented this tactic flawlessly in their quarterfinal and strongly in their semifinal.

from “Podium Moments – ML2020 Event 15”, by Stynth
Bolt (center) implementing their cousin’s tactics.

The team’s Collision performance got them from fifteenth to eleventh in the standings, but a fifteenth in the Marble Marathon pushed them down to thirteenth overall where they finished, mirroring the finish in 2019. The team was never higher than 11th overall and only had six top-half finishes. 

Even with the subpar performance, the city of Stormholm was not dejected. Excitement rippled through the city for the upcoming conference between the team and the local community. Most of the team’s operations are conducted in Thorston, but the team chose the nearby city of Stormholm for this conference. Stynth traveled to the region to attend.

As I hastily grabbed the pad off of my head, the five current members of the Thunderbolts lined up in front of me—and in front of them, the five original members of the Thunderbolts. We rolled out of the room together and into the press room to thunderous applause from hundreds of Marble League fans, ascending the ramp to the stage and taking our seats.

The Thunderbolts’ new manager, Static, had a few words to say at the start of the conference: “What a historic moment. I think it’s really important to note that although our franchise hasn’t had the best performances or luck, it’s built on a legacy of overcoming adversity in everything we do. Each of our athletes can attest to that.”

Bolto rolled back in approval, translating to: “Our achievements aren’t greater than the new team, even if we finished on the podium in 2016. It’s not about winning.”

“It’s about staying determined,” added Bolta. “We’ve all been there, and we have all succeeded from our best to our worst.”

from “Offseason Moments – ML2020 Part 1”, by Stynth

The overall point of the conference was to announce a change in team involvement. Thunderstorm would continue to be the coach but would focus on the performance level of training. They would help with technique, strength, conditioning, and any other aspect of training that would directly come into play in the competition. 

It was further announced that the old members of the team, namely Bolta and Bolty, would be involved with the team. Using their competition experience, they would help with the mental aspect of competition. Bolta and Bolty would use their experience at the highest level to help with resilience after a bad performance, motivation before each event, and handling the moment. 

The separation of responsibilities within the team led to more efficiency within the organization. Right before Shock and Bolt were about to start Marbula One Season 2, I got a chance to ask Shock about the transition.

“We were all excited to announce the transition. We look up to them as a standard to what we can become and hopefully surpass in the future.”

“Has the training been any different and if so, can you feel a difference?”

“We’ve all gotten pretty good at roll language,” Shock jested, “But in all seriousness, the physical training is still as intense as ever; Thunderstorm still likes to push us pretty hard and likes to push Bolt and me especially hard as we enter this season. The mental training has been a little different. Our recovery days are now significantly more focused on strategizing, handling the moment, and helping us focus on each situation. Every moment in competition is testing your mind just as much as it is testing your physical ability, and having guidance from marbles who have succeeded at the highest level is invaluable to us.”

The new training regimen introduced in the offseason had an almost immediate payoff in competition. Shock got the team’s first points of the new season in the opening race at Minty Mania, qualifying and ending in tenth and getting three points. The first sign of the high-quality performance that the Thunderbolts would display over the next few months came at the O’raceway. Despite having a mediocre race, Bolt flew through lap fourteen in a blistering 25.63 seconds, receiving an extra point for fastest lap, earning five points overall. 

Two races later at the Aquamaring, Bolt came looking for hardware. After qualifying in fourth, they climbed up to second in the opening five laps. Bolt found themselves side by side with race leader Pulsar of Team Galactic on the belt, and with the better launch off into lap six, Bolt held the lead. Their lead got as large as almost two seconds before relinquishing it to Red Eye on lap eleven. Bolt contended for the top position for the rest of the race, but ended in second, equaling their best career finish.

A close battle for first.

It was right back to work for Bolt the next week at Tumult Turnpike, and their form was just as good. After going third-best in Q1, Bolt defended the transfer position in Q2 and went to Q3 for the second week in a row. They made up all three positions in the first shootout lap and got pole position for the race. Already having their best qualification position, Bolt put together their best race yet. Never lower than third position and leading for ten of the sixteen laps, it was the Thunderbolts’ best chance to pick up gold. In the end, Hazy took the top step and Bolt got a second consecutive silver—the team’s fifth silver medal in the calendar year. Shock got their best finish of the season the next week at the Arctic Circuit with a fifth-place finish. At the halfway point, the Thunderbolts sat in fourth overall.

During the Marbula One hiatus, the whole team was invited to compete in the Marble League Winter Special. Thunderstorm said the goal was to “continue the momentum from Marbula One.” After a last-place finish in the Ice Dash, Bolt competed in the Snowboard Cross event. In the heats, they finished one-thousandth of a second behind Kinnowin of the O’rangers and advanced to the semifinal where they again got second, two-thousandths of a second behind Aqua of the Oceanics. The rematch between Aqua and Bolt came in the final. Aqua held the lead for the top half of the course before Bolt took the lead toward the bottom of the course. In a third consecutive photo finish, Bolt fell again and claimed the silver medal, their third silver in the past three months. 

With the second-place finish, the Thunderbolts moved up to sixth in the standings and sent Thunder to represent them in Speed Skating. Thunder was in the last pair to run and was on pace to finish fifth after the first lap. The next two turns were much better and they were on pace for first halfway through the race. When the dust settled, Thunder ran a 29.46: a Marble League record. It was also the Thunderbolts’ first gold medal since Bobsled in 2018 and left them in second place overall, also their highest since Bobsled in 2018.

Striking the top step for the first time with the new roster.

The final two events were average, getting tenth in Bobsled and eleventh in Ice Hockey after losing in the first round of the tournament to the Snowballs. They ended the Special in fifth place making it their highest Marble League finish since their third place finish in 2016.

After the special, Thunder commented on how the new training routine helped the team in the Marble League.

“The work Bolta and Bolty have put in the past six months has helped immensely. I could feel the work paying off in the second lap of Speed Skating when I was slipping out of touch with Ducky but had the resilience to pull it back for gold. Sure, we didn’t end the way we wanted. We wanted to defend our Bobsled title but just fumbled the steering a bit near the end, but there’s a lot of good we can take from this. We look forward to building on this in 2021.”

When Marbula One resumed, Bolt got right back to work at the Raceforest. They jumped from seventh on the grid to get a bronze in the race. It was Bolt’s third medal in three Marbula One appearances. With the result, the Thunderbolts held second in the overall standings and Bolt held second in the individual standings. A few poor qualifying performances, including two failures to qualify in the next three races, hurt the Thunderbolts, but they remained in the podium positions overall. 

A third medal of the season for Bolt.

The season fell apart for the Thunderbolts after the Raceforest GP. They didn’t get past the qualifying round in three of the final five races: Shock at the Momotorway and Misty Mountain and Bolt at Midnight Bay. In between their qualification woes, each competitor had a mediocre race. At Pallete Park, Bolt struggled in the early parts of the weekend. Qualifying fourteenth and quickly falling to sixteenth, it looked like the first poor performance of the season for Bolt. They did well to battle and end in ninth, matching their finishing position at the O’raceway but without the fastest lap.

Two weeks later at the Savage Speedway, Shock got an opportunity to improve on the fifteenth from the inaugural season. It started optimistically; fifth on the grid and third after the first turn boded well for the struggling marble in their final race of the season. However, as was the case for most of the team’s second half of the season, Shock struggled to find pace during each race and tumbled down the order. They fell as far down as twelfth before bouncing back and ending in seventh. After their rough final five races, the team ended in sixth overall, and Bolt finished fifth in the individual championship. A good result, but after the blistering start to the season, there was a lingering disappointment.

“We’re not sure what happened,” Bolt expressed, “After the Raceforest, we thought [the second half] was going to go just as the first half did. Hard to say what the [Marble League Winter] Special did to our focus in M1, but it wasn’t helpful clearly.” 

After the Marbula One season ended, the media was very critical of Thunderstorm’s competitor selection in the Winter Marble League.

“If I could do it over again, I probably would’ve rested Shock and Bolt,” Thunderstorm responded in a press conference, “but they’re fierce competitors. They want to compete. It’s hard to tell them they are being rested.” Thunderstorm’s hot seat wasn’t cooled at all with the Marble League 2021 Practice Race in Felynia where Bolt finished dead last against all 27 other teams.

As a welcome intermission from the harsh storms, the Thunderbolts stayed in the Felynia area in the time between the Practice Race and the Qualifiers. Welcomed into the Marble League village, the main five members spend their time exploring along the river.

“The weather here certainly is different,” Zap joked, “Anytime it gets this calm back home, you know a big storm is looming.”

The Thunderbolts at a photoshoot in Felynia. Picture courtesy of The Emperor.

In RetRollSpective, the Thunderbolts do not always contend for the overall title, but they are always in the thick of things. They always are around to compete for an event podium and have an upward trend towards getting back to successes of the past. Recent success has made the team a big name in marble sports and they look to keep that reputation going forward. Best of luck to the Thunderbolts in the future, keep on rolling! 

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