By: Chris Lomen
This past Sunday I was fortunate enough to get to try out for Red Bull Crashed Ice 2013. For anyone who is unfamiliar with the event, it is essentially downhill ice skate racing, on a crazy course with big drops, jumps, and other obstacles. Last year was the first year the event took place in St. Paul. I missed the tryout last year, so I made it a point to get there this time around. I grew up playing ice hockey year round, and I’m an adrenaline junkie, so this sort of thing is right up my alley. And since it’s the middle of winter and nothing else is going on for inline (other than countless Dome laps), I thought I’d do a quick recap of my qualifier experience.
The qualifiers for the event were held on the rink at the Xcel Energy Center, not far from where the downhill course will be in a couple of weeks (see the 3D video here). Each participant at these qualifiers got two chances to complete an obstacle course on the ice as quickly as possible. Touching any of the obstacles or cones was an automatic disqualification for that run, so if you DQed on your first run, you only had one more shot to finish without hitting anything. There were two parallel courses set up, so two athletes skated at a time, one on each course. To qualify for the downhill, you had to be in the top 30 fastest times. Here’s a map of the course:
I showed up at the Xcel at 3:30PM, which is when my registration email told me to. After registering, they told me that my session (the last one of the day) didn’t start until 7:20PM. By this time I was already pretty jacked up with pre-race nerves, so finding out I had four more hours to kill after being nervous all day was not easy mentally. I watched some of the first session skaters complete the course, and ended up going home to watch football for a while to try to take my mind off of things for a bit.
Eventually the time came, and I suited up in my gear. I wore skates, shin pads, hockey breezers, elbow pads, gloves, and my hockey helmet. I was pretty sure the athlete handbook said these pads were all mandatory, but most of the guys there just skated without the breezers and wore sweatpants instead. I definitely would have gone that route if I had known we could ditch the breezers beforehand – a little less weight and bulk goes a long way in a time trial.
After a brief pep talk and demo from the event manager, we all went to the benches and waited for our turns. We weren’t allowed a warm up of any kind. We literally had to put our stuff on, sit on the bench, and then go out and do these insane 20 second sprint courses while completely cold, and with no practice runs on the course. My number was in the middle of the pack, so I got to see some people go ahead of me, but I didn’t have to wait long. I knew which side of the rink I’d be skating on, so I rehearsed the route in my head over and over so I could avoid DQing on something stupid. By my estimation, around 75% of people either DQed or fell on their first run. Not many people made it through cleanly.
I was no exception. On my first run, I had a clean start, and made it around the first turn and under the bar with no problem. Somehow my angle was thrown off, and I ended up turning the wrong way around the second cone. Despite the mistake, I skated hard through the rest of the course to get the feel for my second run. Of all the things to DQ on, I can’t believe it was on a wrong turn! I spent a lot of time memorizing the course. Once you’re out there, it goes by in an absolute flash. It literally felt like the blink of an eye. It was a very surreal feeling.
My goal for the second run was to have a clean run and not DQ. Given the rate of mistakes of the other skaters, I knew I at least had a chance if I could get through the whole run without doing anything stupid. Above is a video of my second run, courtesy of my roommate and fellow inliner Scott Berger. I’m the one in the blue shirt. Thankfully I didn’t DQ and didn’t fall, which felt great. Unfortunately, my time of 24.4 seconds didn’t put me in the top 30 times, so I didn’t qualify for the downhill. However, the time different between 57th and 30th was about half a second. I would have needed sub-24 seconds to qualify.
I definitely learned a lot in the tryouts this year, which will help for next year. Here are some tips, if any of you crazy kids are thinking about trying out next year. There are qualifiers all over the country for the event.
· If you can, do the morning session, not the afternoon session. Despite resurfacing, the ice was absolutely shot after having 400+ people making the same exact turns in the ice all day. The other added bonus of the morning session is that if you don’t qualify in the morning, you can try to take one of the “walk-on” spots in the afternoon, and have another shot. Kind of a loophole, but a lot of people did it.
· If there is any possible way you can practice the course beforehand, do it! They give you a map of the course nearly two months before the qualifiers. If you can go to your local outdoor rink and set up a replica of the course and practice it, even just a few times, you will have a HUGE leg up on the competition. If you can’t practice the course, try to practice the unusual sensations of jumping over and diving under things on skates – and then getting immediately back up and doing a hairpin turn.
· Just know ahead of time that your registration time and your actual skating time will likely be several hours apart. You’ll want to find some way to warm up before your session, even it if means doing springs in the hallways before you suit up.
· Wear as little bulky padding as you feel comfortable with for these tryouts. If you by chance make it to the downhill, then you’ll want to make yourself into a human tank. But for the qualifiers, speed is all that matters. Half a second can be the difference between moving on and going home.
Links to 2012′s InlineSkateMpls.com Red Bull Crashed Ice Coverage: