Croxall on top of the world in ice cross racing

A 19 Wing Comox firefighter was the hottest thing on ice last week in Munich.

Lukas Kolc (left)

A 19 Wing Comox firefighter was the hottest thing on ice last week in Munich.

Kyle Croxall, a newcomer to the Comox Valley, won the Red Bull Crashed Ice World Championships 2011 season opener in Munich’s historic Olympic Park. The 22-year-old kept his balance and rode a wave of adrenaline to triumph on a challenging course filled with jumps, obstacles and chicanes.

Ice cross athletes from 21 nations raced at blinding speeds down a 353-metre long ice track in front of 23,000 thrilled spectators on Jan. 15. Scott Croxall, Kyle’s younger brother, was disqualified for a false start in the final and ended up fourth.

The high-speed sport sees groups of four skaters clad in hockey gear race in a series of eliminations, with the top two from each heat advancing. The winter extreme sport combines elements of hockey, downhill skating and boardercross.

Now in his third year of ice cross, Croxall was runner-up in the world in 2010 when there were just two races (Germany and Quebec City) and he won the Canadian event while skipping the European race.

Originally from Mississauga, Ont., Croxall has been in the military for two years and says he has been enjoying the Comox Valley’s recreational opportunities since moving here about a month and a half ago.

He was going to school in Ottawa in 2008 when he discovered the thrill of ice cross. “One of my buddies was trying out and I saw a bunch of commercials on TV and it looked like something for me.” Some 200 people tried out, with only the top three qualifying. Croxall finished second and has been competing at an elite level ever since.

He definitely has the ideal sports background for ice cross. “I’ve been playing hockey since I was about three. I’ve done a lot of waterskiing and I snowboard as well,” Croxall said.

As one of the top three in the world, Croxall’s travel expenses are taken care of by Red Bull, and the military has been good in giving him time off to attend each event, which he describes as a five-day circus.

“You get there one day, and the next day there are tryouts, you check out the course and (do) qualifications. If you make the top 64 in qualifying you race after that.” With about 150 qualified racers (of some 20,000 hopefuls world-wide) gathering in Germany, the usual format of two preliminary races followed by quarter-finals, semis and the final was used. “You have to race about five times to get to the final,” Croxall explained.

With three races left in the world championship series, Croxall says his 200-point lead over Arttu Pihlainen of Finland is not a commanding one, but adds, “If I can win another (race) it might look pretty good for me to win the whole thing.”

From Munich, the Red Bull Crashed Ice World Championship moves to Valkenburg (Netherlands) on Feb. 5 and Moscow on Feb. 26 before the season finale in Quebec City on March 19.

Final rankings will be determined by points accumulated over the four stops. The top four finishers in both the men’s and women’s categories will skate away with not only bragging rights, but also a share of the prize purse totalling $15,150 for both divisions.

Croxall’s younger brother Scott (who lives in Mississauga) is in fourth place and 400 points back in the standings, and Croxall said they often race against each other. They raced in the semis in Munich, he noted. This is also the 20-year-old Scott’s third year of ice cross, Croxall said.

He added the speed the racers reach is determined by how “crazy” the track is. Munich’s difficult track produced numerous spectacular duels thanks to its towering 15-metre high starting ramp and a 68-degree decline as well as two bridges, two kickers, an eight-metre high jump and six-metre long jump. Seven-time Red Bull Crashed Ice champion Jasper Felder of Sweden crashed out of the race in the round of 16 when he hit a wall at 70 km/h.

CROSS FIRE For more on the world championship series, Google Red Bull Crashed Ice … if you think you’ve got what it takes to be be an ice cross racer, join other adrenaline junkies Saturday at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre in Vancouver for the Red Bull Crashed Ice qualifier event … organizers say up to 50 walk-up spots (as time and registration allows) will be available … participants will compete in speed trials on an obstacle course on an indoor hockey rink … the action starts at 5 p.m. …

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