Insanity on Ice!

TIM BAINES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 3:00 PM ET

QUEBEC CITY -- With spotlights dancing off the majestic Chateau Frontenac, the music, in particular the bass, pulsates through the nearby eclectic village of art galleries, cafes and antique shops -- Old Quebec at its finest.

The beat throbs. And the words ring out: "Put your hands up in the air. Put your hands ... up ... in the air." Many of the 75,000 or so spectators packed in like sardines for Saturday's Red Bull Crashed Ice event bounce up and down, waving their hands and singing to the techo/dance ditty by Belgian musician Danzel. It's like karaoke night at the neighbourhood pub, except this pub has a sprawling winter wonderland to go with it.

As one song leads into another, Metallica's Enter Sandman transitioning into Michael Jackson's Thriller and Green Day's American Idiot, with fans frequently beginning the "Ole, Ole, Ole" chant, the competitors take a deep breath, do a gut check and wait for the gates to open ... it's at that moment the racers get to suck in the whole experience. They'll hear the chants. They'll hear the spectators pounding on the boards, a roar that would be deafening if not for the cranked-up musical interludes. But they must ignore the noise. There's a treacherous course ahead of them, a nasty bit of 550-metre winding track with hairpin curves and plenty of hills and bumps.

"It's so intense, with all the banging on the walls," said Etobicoke's Shane Nuttley, who cut the word Nuts into his hair and died a strip red the day before leaving for the competition. For his race, he also wore flashing red horns strapped to his helmet, finishing 37th.

"When I'm in the gate, the hair on the back of my neck stands up. It's so energizing, it's so electric. You can't have fear. You have to be a bit crazy to do this."

"When you're standing above everything and you look down at the crowd, you just stop and go 'Whoa!' " said Markham's Doug Knight, who missed qualifying for Saturday's event by one position. "There's really nothing that compares to this."

"This is so freaking electric," said Lethbridge's Kevin Olson, who couldn't defend his 2007 championship, tumbling to the ice while leading one of Saturday's qualifiers and placing 18th. "You can't really understand until you stand there and you take it in. You get butterflies as you're walking up the stairs. As you watch the lights go to green, you get a rush and it takes over.

"I'm just a regular Joe. Most of these guys are."

Regular guys? So what about the danger?

"We're not signed up for chess or checkers ... we know what we're getting ourselves into," said Calgary's Trent Wiebe, who finished 22nd in his third Crashed Ice competition.

"It's pretty intense, pretty extreme," said Edmonton's Chris Odynski, who was eliminated in the qualifications for the finals and wound up 95th. "The first time up, you really find yourself shaking.

"This really is an acquired taste."

Saturday's race was won by Finland's Arttu Pihlainen. But there was much more to the weekend than Pihlainen's victory and the $5,000 that went with it.

Quebec City rolled out the giant Bienvenue sign. And with the hearty welcome came one wild party after another.

The bars rocked till the wee hours of the morning with many of the competitors right in the thick of things. It's, as TSN phrased it during its live broadcast, "Crashed Liver."

"I'm the last guy in and first guy out," said Nuttley. "I don't sleep much."

"This is my city and I'm proud of it," said Christian Papillon, who placed 10th. "I'm from here and I work in Montreal. The crowd is amazing. This really turns into a party."

"Quebec goes off, the city is pumped," said Wiebe. "Partying? I think they call this an extreme sport. Guys enjoy it for that reason. Some guys push it to the extreme and others focus on the task at hand."

"The city itself is a distraction, but a good one," said Olson. "The women here are beautiful. The nightlife is so much fun. The people here have embraced this so much."

"You try and balance the partying and the event itself, but it's hard not to party," said Winnipeg's Brook Robson, a University of Manitoba student who was forced to drop out of Saturday's final 64 after hurting his hip in a practice-round tumble. This year, he was competing alongside his best buddy, Brett Tyler Gravrailoff.

Many of the competitors have a hockey background, but this is about so much more than being able to streak down the ice.

This is extreme speed skating with a touch of hockey, bobsleigh and boardercross -- and maybe even a touch of roller derby -- thrown in.

"I'm pretty much up for anything. But this really pushes it to the limit," said Ottawa's Corey Thibaudeau, who placed 34th.

"I'm an adrenaline junkie," said London's Gary Hudson, who finished 35th. "I love this."

"This isn't just a hockey event," said Papillon. "We wear hockey stuff, but it isn't hockey. This is Crashed Ice."

And it's a helluva party ... to the extreme.


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