Finland welcomes red-hot Naasz and Red Bull Crashed Ice
From the sun and warm weather of Southern France to the snow and frost of Finland, the athletes racing in the Ice Cross Downhill World Championship will have to quickly shift gears for the second Red Bull Crashed Ice of the season in Jyväskylä-Laajis. American Cameron Naasz is eager to win back-to-back races — and titles, while Canadas Jaqueline Legere is motivated to defend her title in the Women’s competition.
JYVÄSKYLÄ-LAAJIS, Finland – It is hard to imagine two more different venues for Red Bull Crashed Ice races than last week’s first-ever stop in a warm-weather city, in the Mediterranean port of Marseille, and this week’s second race in the frozen Finnish college town of Jyväskylä, a winter wonderland with cold temperatures and reindeer not far away. But that is exactly the extreme test of stamina, conditioning and exposure to the elements on the 630 meter long track with its 66-meter vertical drop that the world’s fastest downhill ice skaters will have to master for the second stop of the season on Jan. 20 and 21.
Naasz is on a tear after winning the season opener in Marseille, France and relished the chance to race against and beat two other former champions, Scott Croxall of Canada and Marco Dallago of Austria as well as compatriot Maxwell Dunne in last week’s spectacular final. “That was one of the best finals we’ve seen in years,” said Naasz. “All four guys in that final are amazing athletes.” The American admitted that he was extremely motivated to win the repeat of the final in Marseille after he won the first final that was later scrapped due to a faulty starting gate. “I used that mostly as motivation,” he said. “I was really angry.”
In Ice Cross Downhill, athletes race down an obstacle-filled ice track four-at-a-time at speeds of up to 80 km/h. The first two advance as the field is whittled down from more than 100 to a final 4. Finland is one of the sport’s most enthusiastic nations, having produced former champion Arttu Pihlainen. Three athletes in this week’s race will be celebrating 10 years of competition at the highest level after joining the sport at the 2007 race in Helsinki.
The track in Finland was covered with light snow at times on Thursday as athletes from more than 20 countries around the world started training for the weekend racing. There was a sense of excitement in the air as they raced down the only natural ice track on the Red Bull Crashed Ice calendar this year. Icy temperatures of 7 below zero are expected for Saturday’s race.
In the women’s competition, Canada’s Jacqueline Legere got her title defense off to a blazing start. She’ll be looking to double her points to 2,000 in Jyväskylä. She is now the prime target of America’s Amanda Trunzo, who came in Second, as well as third place winner Veronika Windisch of Austria.
Never before in the 16-year history of Red Bull Crashed Ice, the signature series in the 9 stop Ice Cross Downhill World Championship, have there been back-to-back races on two weekends. But this year’s crowded calendar with five Riders Cup races, which are worth 25% as many points, along with the four point-rich Red Bull Crashed Ice events means athletes have little time to recover from the race in Marseille, France’s warmest city.
The American, who has now won five of the last six Red Bull Crashed Ice races and wants to become the first to win back-to-back titles, will be looking to double his point total to 2,000 with a win in Jyväskylä-Laajis. A victory on the long natural ice track in the snow-covered ski resort here three hours north of Helsinki would also help Naasz avenge a bitter defeat in Jyväsklä-Laajis that nearly cost him last year’s championship.
“I always want to win,” said Naasz. “It’s always the goal in the back of mind,” he added, referring to his aim of becoming the first to defend his title. There have been seven different champions in the last seven years.