This sport not for the meek

Two-time Red Bull Crashed Ice Champion Kevin Olson is off to Quebec City  to compete in the event...

Two-time Red Bull Crashed Ice Champion Kevin Olson is off to Quebec City to compete in the event this Saturday. (SUN MEDIA/Craig Robertson)

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:44 AM ET

After a few years of Red Bull Crashed Ice -- fighting three other skaters in full hockey gear down a twisting track through old Quebec City -- it'll be hard for Kevin Olson to return to civilian life.

"You have 100,000 people either wanting you to crash or wanting you to win," Olson said yesterday. "It's the most amazing thing I've ever participated in."

Throw in a nationwide audience on TSN and you have an alternative to NHL all stars trying to break styrofoam targets this Saturday night. There's even national pride at stake as Olson tries to wrestle the men's title and the $5,000 prize back from Finland's Arttu Pihlainen in the fourth annual event.

"Finland is notorious for their hockey and their skaters, so of course they'll send their best," Lethbridge, Alta.'s Olson said. "But this year it's going to be Canada and that I'll guarantee. We can skate and it shows in an event such as this."

Four skaters at a time rocket down a 550-metre track, booby-trapped with bumps, curves and surprises such as a 56-metre vertical drop. First one to the bottom of the hill wins and though skullduggery is not supposed to be on the program, the intense battle for positioning guarantees the kind of mayhem you used to see on the opening credits of ABC's old Wide World Of Sports.

"I've seen some epic crashes," chortled Olson, who played junior about 10 years ago for the WHL's Calgary Hitmen. "Guys taking inside corners when they're out of control drive me nuts. I've seen torn up knees, I've seen badly bruised ribs ... it's like skiing. You go down a hill too quick, you take a corner too fast and the crashes are inevitable. But they're fun to watch.

"It gets a little more cut-throat each year. Guys have things to prove, guys see who has been at the event longer and want to gauge themselves against them.

"They're always trying to get in there and cut you off, but it's incidental contact and inside the athletes' tent later, it's pretty loose."

More than 10,000 men apply each year and are whittled down by nation-wide time trials until 64 are chosen for Quebec City. They battle it out in heats of four up to Saturday night's final, with the city lit up and the track surrounded by party goers attending for free.

"The ambience is incredible," said Olson, who also participated in an event in Helsinki. "Going around the old buildings, with the lights, the music and big TV screens ... it's a taste of Europe.

"It's an amazing experience to skate down a hill where there's jumps, whoop-de-whoops, table tops ... the TV camera just doesn't do the course justice. The speed they're getting to is such a rush."

At 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, Olson's dimensions can be a help or hinderance.

"If you're a bigger boy and you get in front, you'll not get passed, but for the little guys, speed and coming out of corners without your weight digging in is a bonus. I like to use my quick starts, corners and my quickness."

There will be 20 women competing for the first time.

"A lot of people want to see women get involved," Olson said. "(Ex-NHLer) P.J. Stock tried it last year and he was on his butt for three quarters of the track.

"Now we're going to send women down? I'm not trying to be sexist, I just hope they don't get hurt."


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