Scott Olson, along with his brother Brennan, are credited as the first developers of a commercially viable inline skate.
In 1979, the Olson brothers came across a pair of old inline skates in Minneapolis. They were competitive ice hockey players and each possessed a strong understanding of how skaters propel themselves across ice. The Olson brothers acquired the skates and they began to experiment with the configuration of the skate wheels and the construction of the boot. As hockey players, they saw the potential of inline skates as an off-season training aid.
The notion of using wheeled skates to travel on dry land was not a novel one in 1979, as roller skates, with a box shaped wheel configuration, had been available for decades in the United States. The concept of inline skates, where three or four wheels were positioned in a straight alignment, had been patented many years prior to 1979, but the concept had never been commercially marketed.
In theory, an inline configuration would provide the user with greater maneuverability and the wheels would present less rolling resistance than conventional roller blade wheels, and consequently permit the user to travel at greater speeds on paved surfaces. Where the user desired speed, the wheels on the inline skate could be of greater circumference, as larger wheels provide produce as they travel further in each revolution (there is also a correspondingly greater amount of energy required to initiate the movement of the larger wheels). Smaller circumference wheels will permit ease of stopping for the user and are preferred for the performing of tricks. The inline skating motion is one where the skater will naturally shift their center of gravity to a point above each leg as it drives the respective skate forward. In doing so, there will be a greater efficiency of motion, as the full weight of the body will be hind each stride.
Scott Olson ultimately added four wheels made from urethane (ethyl carbamate), a hard rubber compound, to a boot obtained from an old ice hockey skate. Olson added a rubber toe brake to assist the user in stopping, positioned in a similar fashion to the toe picks that assist a figure skater in stopping and performing jumps. Olson argued that a boot such as that used in ice hockey was required to provide the user with both flexibility and ankle support. The urethane wheels provided efficient, reduced friction movement in relation to one another as well as a measure of traction not available between metal roller skate wheels and pavement.
A rubber heel brake was subsequently added to the design, a device that permitted a skater to depress their heel and stop quickly and remain in a stable position.
Between 1979 and 1983, Scott Olson directed the research and development of the inline skates that he had created. Olson formed a company, Rollerblade Inc. to further the production of the product.
The initial Rollerblades were popular, but as with many new products, there were flaws in the original design that limited performance. The most common difficulty occurred in the wheels and their tendency to not run smoothly due to the build-up of dirt inside the ball bearing mechanism within each wheel. However, Olson's initial belief as to the utility of the Roller-blade as a off season hockey training aid was also embraced by the cross-country skiing community. The natural motion required to propel oneself on inline skate permitted the off season skiers to approximate the skiing motion on pavement.
In 1983, Olson sold the Rollerblade company. In the late 1980s, the Rollerblade product became extremely popular with recreational users who sought fitness. Rollerblades also became the basis Of competitive inline skating hockey competitions popular in various parts of North America. Inline speed skating races, conducted both on indoor tracks as well as on road courses, became one of the earlier recognized extreme sports. The success of Roller-blade prompted a number of corporate competitors to enter the inline skating market after 1990.
Inline skating has also become a performance art, with tricks and various stunts performed at skateboard parks. The skaters use fixed structures such as half pipes and ramps to generate both speed and the hang time necessary to complete complex aerial routines.
It is a testament to the foresight of the Olson brothers that the terms Rollerblade and blading are cemented into everyday North American language; the generic term for any inline skate is a rollerblade.
Scott Olson continued his career as a developer of fitness products after selling the Rollerblade company. Olson patented a design called the RowBike a two-wheeled machine that is configured like a bicycle, but one that is powered by the rider who employs a rowing motion. The action of the rider is similar to that of the railroad hand carts in use in the early days of railroading in North America.