Ice-crosshairs

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:58 AM ET

It's like roller derby without wheels.

And instead of racing around in circles, competitors skate down an ice track, which features sharp-angel turns and jumps.

Last night organizers of the Red Bull Crashed Ice competition were in town in search of participants for the annual event holding qualifying heats at Rexall Place.

"We're doing this at 11 cities across the country," said Pete Andersen, field marketing manager for Red Bull.

"We have a pool of 10,000 registered and had a lottery for 200 skaters to compete in the qualifying. The top five men and the top woman from each city moves on to the finals in Quebec."

The sport of "ice-cross downhill" as it's called, originated with the inagural event in Stockholm Sweden eight years ago. This year's final takes place on Jan. 24, the fourth time Quebec City has played host to the event.

Early on, it was dominated by a Swede named Jasper Felder, who won the first five races.

Since then, the event has found a semi-permanent home in Quebec City.

"Red Bull does that event right," Andersen said. "Over 80,000 people show up to cheer these guys on. It's a cross between boarder-cross and ice skating and craziness.

"It ran through Europe for a number of years before we caught wind of it. This being a hockey country we brought it over and dominated for the first two years with the top three guys. Last year we had second through fourth. A European won it, so there is a little bit of vindication in order."

Arttu Pihlainen of Helsinki, Finland claimed the title last year.

His biggest challenge this year is expected to come from Kevin Olsen of Lethbridge who won the 2007 and 2006 titles. Gabriel Andre of Prince Albert, Sask., is the only other Canadian skater to win the event.

"You have to be a very strong, efficient, technical skater to make it to Quebec," said Andersen. "To win Quebec you have to be a strong, efficient, technical skater, who's a little bananas."

This year also marks the first time females will take part in the event.

Last night University of Alberta student Jennifer Hartley, 20, had the best time among the female qualifiers and booked a trip to Quebec City, where she'll compete for the $5,000 first place prize.

"I found out about this on campus, they had posters up," she said. "A few years back I was watching it and it looked like a lot of fun and I love skating. It's awesome to qualify. Getting to go to Quebec for free is pretty exciting."

The qualifying event last night consisted of a small obstacle course where competitors had to slide between pylons and jump over a hurdle.

It's designed to emulate some of the skills required in navigating the 550-metre vertical track in Quebec, which snakes its way through the city. Competitors take part in full hockey gear.

"This is just like any other thing," said Hartley, who plays for the Edmonton Wham of the National Ringette League.

"I've been in big competitions before.

"You just go out there and give it your all and have a lot of fun really. It's all about having fun."


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