Home Sports Crashed ice smash hit

Crashed ice smash hit

by Archives January 29, 2008

When you head out to watch a sport you’ve only heard existed a week earlier, you tend to feel concern that what you’re going to see will be similar to the late 90s return of roller derby, or the poor excuse for a sport that was Slamball, where basketball was mutated into something unholy through the installation of trampolines on the court. Fortunately, getting on a bus with 56 other Concordia students for a trip to the 2008 Red Bull Crashed Ice finals, the good omens began to show themselves early, especially when a beer bong made an appearance no more than ten minutes into the trip.
Many of the students on the bus hadn’t heard about Crashed Ice, before the magic that is Red Bull’s marketing department got them excited about the prospect of a sport that mixes physical downhill skating with snowboard cross.
“Dion Phaneuf told me about it,” joked sociology major Dave Lingwood, referring to the ads that had feature the Calgary Flames defenceman promoting Crashed Ice.
“It looks like what would happen if you took Disney on Ice and pushed the cast down a steep hill, adding curves and jumps on the way down.”
Upon arriving in Quebec’s historic old city and witnessing the first ‘crashers’ taking practice runs down the course, Lingwood’s opinion seemed to hold weight. Beginning almost at the door of the Chateau Laurier, the racers climbed up three flights of scaffolding and onto a launch ramp overlooking the frozen St. Lawrence River. The view was the last pleasant thing they would see until the finish line, as a seven-metre long, 45 degree ramp dropped them three stories down into the course and set them on the way to speeds that flirt around 60km per hour.
From then on it got even better. Racers on average took less than a minute to complete the 1500-foot course. This feat was accomplished by the course designers, who spent three weeks realizing a track that drops the crasher 56 metres through the old city from Chateau Laurier to the finish line in Place Royale.
“The course is crazy, I’ve never seen anything like it,” said finalist Scott Diver. “The one jump a the end is crazy, I broke my thumb on it just yesterday.”
Diver is one of 64 finalists who qualified for Saturday’s final heats, and intends to race regardless of the broken extremity.
The Phaneuf ads are just the first step in a rise in exposure for Red Bull’s fledgling new sport. The concept for Crashed Ice first developed a decade ago, when Red Bull executives first heard the pitch for a new sport based on downhill in-line skating, which was popular in Europe at that time. The first Crashed Ice event was held in Stockholm, Sweden in 2000. Since then the event has been featured in Finland, Quebec, the Czech Republic, Russia, Minnesota, and Austria.
2008’s championship is the third time Quebec City has played host to Crashed Ice, and it’s safe to say that the sport has grown among Canadians, considering this year’s record attendance that saw 85,000 spectators crammed in the winding streets of Old Quebec.
“It brings so many people to Quebec,” said trip organizer Samson Tshikuka, “It’s such a beautiful city to begin with and people tend to take that for granted. What better thing to do than to bring people to see a crazy event in a great city with a beautiful backdrop?”
Former VP of Student Life at Concordia, Tshikuka became involved with Red Bull when he was approached while MC’ing at Reggie’s pub by a Red Bull employee and invited to attend last year’s Crashed Ice.
“It’s a rush,” said Tshikuka when describing the sport he now helps promote. “Think about going down an icy ski hill with ice skates and having to deal with hairpin turns, crazy jumps, and 45 degree drops.”
Imagine doing all that Tshikuka describes, while wrestling with three other opponents in a lane five metres wide, and you get an idea why interest in this sport has risen steadily in the past years, culminating in this year’s Crashed Ice final being televised nationally by TSN.
Prior to the finals however, the qualified players began with a series of heats that began at 7:00 p.m. when the temperature hovered around -19 degrees Celsius. Some people arrived as much as six hours before the heats begun, as last year’s attendance of around 50,000 people made movement along the old city streets next to impossible and the best spots were sure to go to the early birds.
The crowd’s patience was rewarded in true blue-collar style, when a racer with a mullet that would shame Joe Dirt served as the pacer for a few racers going down the hill on a practice run. These were followed by one of the fastest country processions ever put together, as the player’s nationalities were heralded by flags from Croatia, Canada, Sweden, the Czech Republic, and Finland.
The Finnish players made a statement early on when they took the top three spots in the time trial. Having a reputation for speed and quick starts, some attribute their success to the type of skates the Finns use. Rather than standard hockey skates, Finnish participants such as Arttu Pihlainen used longer, non-curved speed skating blades.
As it turned out North Bay, Ontario native Nathan Hewitt had the honour of being the first to wipe out, though not the last by a long shot. Hip checking is standard in this sport, as they move down the hill any two or three crashers caught near each other will typically blow their chances of winning by shoving each other into the boards or the ice in a battle for position. The climactic moment in all this madness happens when two players cozy up close to each other. In this race you simply cannot give a weak stance away to another player, otherwise you will end up eating the boards.
You could hear the skaters coming well before you saw them. The sound of steel blades rattling off ice hardened from the Quebec cold, though not exactly as smooth as a Zamboni-catered ice rink, sounded like a train passing through the old town of Quebec.
As the heats continued, the crowd grew to a point where you could stay warm from the body heat alone. No matter how spectacular or minor, each spill drew a positive response from the throngs of spectators, who collectively willed fallen racers to get up but hoping for the next big wipeout once they got going again.
After all the crashing and shoving the players arrived, rarely on their feet, into Place Royal, their last crash coming when they slammed into the safety mats that marked the finish line. The two heat winners congratulated each other and their colleagues, thankful to have survived the course and to be able to move on to the next heat.
One of these heats drew a match-up between two racers who held seven of eight Crashed ice trophies between them: Alberta native Kevin Olson, winner of the past two championships, and Stockholm legend Jasper Felder, winner of the first five Crashed Ice championships.
Olson led the pack until the second last turn, when he caught the edge of the track and was sent flying into the boards, his dreams of a title defense forgotten in an instant. The same fate befell Richard Bilodeau, who took the largest jump with too much gusto and flipped himself in midair, landing in a heap and allowing his three opponents to slip past him without incident.
Though he won that heat, Felder did not make it past the quarterfinal, falling during that race and opening the way for a new Crashed Ice champion to be crowned. That honour went to the 26-year-old Finn Pihlainen, a former student ice hockey champion and proud father of a three-week-old daughter. He overcame an earlier shoulder injury to beat out three Canadians to capture the 2008 Red Bull Crashed Ice Championship.
The winner crowned, the record crowd of satisfied spectators made their way back through the northern gate of North American’s oldest city. The outright refusal to submit to the elements that spurred its founder Samuel de Champlain and his men was paid homage to 400 years later, when following the three-hour long Red Bull-fueled epic, the mob continued their reverie in Parc de La Francophonie, where they were treated to an hour of music from rock band Three Days Grace.
For Pihlainen, who received a trophy for his efforts along with a $5000 cash prize, it was time to kick back and follow the mob’s example, telling a TSN reporter in his best English that, since the competition is over, it is now time for another exciting sport, called “Crashed Liver.”

Related Articles

Leave a Comment