Kevin Olson left over 75,000 spectators roaring with applause as he claimed the title of ‘Red Bull Crashed Ice’ champion in Old Quebec Saturday night.
Crashed Ice is a sporting event like no other, held annually by the makers of Red Bull energy drink. This extreme sport, a hybrid of hockey, boardercross, and downhill skiing, is not for the faint of heart. Athletes race four by four down a 500m ice-track generous with its sharp turns, 45 degree vertical inclines, and unavoidable jumps. The only tools the athletes have are their skates and gravity, and the only rule is whoever makes it to the bottom first, wins.
The eighth edition of the event returned to Quebec after its Canadian debut there last year. The track started at the city’s highest point, by the Chateau Frontenac, and wound through Old Quebec’s urban surroundings until bringing the athletes to their final dash at Place Royale. Those familiar with last year’s track were astounded to find even more obstacles, greater inclines and 100 metres more of ice to cover. The 2007 promotion of the event boasted the tagline: ‘Consider the Bar Raised’/’Encore Nous, Encore Pire’. The crowd, more than doubled since the 30,000 in attendance last year, would agree that they weren’t kidding.
Athletes were invited based upon qualifications held regionally that tested their strength, speed and agility on skates. The final event this past weekend was comprised of 125 athletes from across Canada and the United States, as well as a select group of participants from Europe.
One of those privileged athletes was Tyler Doherty, Concordia student and member of the Stingers hockey team. Doherty came away from the weekend with an enthusiastic appreciation for what he had been a part of: “It was surreal, I’ve never experienced anything like that before,” Doherty says, “after arriving at the Chateau [Frontenac] and seeing the track, I knew I was going to be part of something spectacular.”
Despite a storm leaving the track covered in snow and many athletes stranded at airports, the event pushed forward like an unstoppable force and began with qualifying rounds early Saturday morning. The top-64 participants moved on to a knock-out tournament that began Saturday night and proceeded with consecutive heats of four skaters at a time.
Many triumphant runs and hope-shattering falls brought the event to its climax: the final four. Kevin Olson of Lethbridge, Alberta, whose Crashed Ice jersey boasted the number one based on his position after the morning qualifiers, was unstoppable through each heat and remained on top until the very end. Besides champion status and an impressive trophy, Olson came away with a $5,000 cash prize. He was followed closely by second place finalist Ross Thompson of Kamloops, BC, and Ben Benicky of North Vancouver who finished in third place. Despite fighting his way to the finals, last year’s defending champion, Gabriel Andre of Saskatchewan, just missed a return to the podium in fourth place.
This sport, as it is unique in many of its aspects, is also different than others in the overwhelming support that the fans have for all the participants in general, as opposed to particular individuals. Doherty, who comes from a semi-pro background in hockey where an athlete is booed when things don’t go well, came away impressed by the encouragement of the crowd:
“Even when you fall, the fans yell ‘get up, go, go!’,” said Doherty, “You didn’t hear anyone laughing, everyone in the stands was supportive. It didn’t matter to them, they were just like: this guy is crazy!”
It was undoubtedly this seemingly insane fearlessness of the athletes and the sheer intensity of the track that left Red Bull Crashed Ice 2007 an even more memorable success than the last.