Six-tenths of a second may not seem like much, but to one athlete it was worth a lifetime of work and ten hours of driving.
At the Red Bull Crashed Ice qualifier at the Bell Sensplex, Richard Abbott brought his skating ability to Ottawa after missing the mark the night before at Toronto’s event by six-tenths of a second. With a time of 22.14, he didn’t miss twice, leaving the Sensplex with the best overall time, and a place in the Edmonton tour event on March 14.
“Coming up to Ottawa, driving five hours through some pretty shitty snow, it was intimidating,” Abbott says “You don’t want to waste the ten hours of driving.”
This year was more difficult to qualify for than recent years, as the Edmonton-based tour stop led to a reduction in the number of out-of-region riders, dropping from the usual 10 per qualifying event to a mere five.
A repeat rider, Abbott missed last year’s tour to honour his commitment as Captain to his junior hockey team, the Temiscaming Titans, but there was no question that he’d be back this year. This season he finished 7th in the Toronto event, missing the mark by fractions of a second, but came out of Ottawa in top position, with a better time to boot.
“Once you get to get to experience Red Bull Crashed Ice for what it is, and not just something on TV, you never want to miss it again. You never want to miss the cut off, you never want to not be involved with the sport. It’s honestly just that unbelievable.”
Red Bull Crashed Ice popularized the sport downhill ice cross in recent years, and features four riders per race on a track that boasts steep drops, jumps, and quick turns, among other obstacles. With elements from ice skating and skiing, among others, it’s a unique experience for all but veteran riders, the difficulties of this unique sport can be costly.
“My first time in Quebec City, there was a portion at the end of the race where you were skating uphill a little bit,” says Abbott. “I didn’t adjust my stride, so I toe-picked because I wasn’t used to skating uphill. I wasn’t used to widening my stride. So both those time trials I toe-picked and I only lost a second or a second in a half, but that’s all you need in those races.”
The Red Bull Crashed Ice eight-race tour operates on a point system, with points earned based on position, where the number one seed gets world champion honours. With thousands of hopefuls, but only the top 64 riders considered to be “on-tour”, the competition is fierce, usually with top positions being decided by the slightest of differences.
In such a high-speed sport, where every second counts, and you’re racing against the best in the world keeping your mental edge can be difficult.
“It’s just constantly telling myself ‘I’m faster than you, I’m faster than you, I’m faster than you’”, says Abbott. “You have to have that mentality. You can’t be intimidated by any of the other riders, because there are some really fast skaters and really experience Crashed Ice racers.”
The important thing to remember about the sport is the fragile nature of a lead when you have four riders in close proximity bumping and jostling for position.
“Never think that the race is over until you’re crossed the line,” Abbott laughs. “Because miracles can happen in 20 metres in this sport. You can be in last the entire race, and the two guys battling for second and third, in that battle for position, lose footing and you catch up. All of a sudden you go from 4th and out to 2nd and you qualify for the next race.”