LANDGRAAF (Netherlands) – Pieter Gysel of Belgium, a former Olympian in short track speedskating and two-time European champion, has quickly mastered the short, high-speed Dutch Ice Cross Downhill Track that has been causing the sport’s established stars troubles and after posting the fastest qualifying time the 32-year-old engineer is a top favorite for the third Red Bull Crashed Ice of the 2012/13 season on Saturday.
Red Bull Crushed Ice 2012/13
“This is a track that is perfect for me,” said Gysel, who won gold medals in the European championships in 2004 and 2006 over 1,500 meters. “At previous races I’d do well on the faster tracks with the big corners. This track is all that. It’s nothing else. Just pure speed and fast corners so I feel at home here. It’s so fast that most of the time you’re just holding on. It’s scary.”
Gysel, who joined Ice Cross Downhill at the start of the 2012 season and has six just races under his belt, had a previous best of 17th on the fast track in Quebec City, Canada at the end of last season after posting the sixth fastest qualifying time for that race. He lives in Leuven, Belgium – about 75 minutes by car from the first permanent indoor track in SnowWorld. He drove to Landgraaf for three days of training before the race and spend a total of five hours on the track before this weekend’s racing.
“I had the opportunity to come and practice on this track a few time, which of course gave me and edge over some of the guys,” said Gysel, who is looking to become a speedskating coach. “I liked the track right away. I knew I’d be able to do well in the qualifying time trials and was eager to give it my best to get the number one spot. It felt good. I know I can perform well here. Finally I feel like things are coming together for me in this sport.”
Canada’s Kyle Croxall, the championship leader, was the most prominent victim of the fastest, steepest course in the history of Red Bull Crashed Ice, getting knocked out of the competition in Friday’s Elimination Round. The 340-meter long track drops 70 meters and racers hit speeds of 60 kmh. Other top racers such as America’s Cameroon Naasz and Canada’s Adam Horst faced tough challenges to win tickets to Saturday’s finals by prevailing in the Elimination Round.
Gysel, who was a top 10 finisher at the 2002, 2006 and 2010 Winter Olympics, said he has fallen in love with Ice Cross Downhill, where the crowds are far larger and more enthusiastic than anything he ever saw in short track speedskating.
“In short track speedskating there are hardly any people watching but here you got 100,000 people showing up to watch races,” he said. “It’s a big show. I think sport is about entertainent and that’s a big part of this sport. Besides that, I just like to go fast.”