Crashing the Olympics: should ice cross be added to the Games?
Olympic.ca is sharing ideas of what Olympic sport might be for upcoming Games. We are calling this series: Future Games.
Ice cross is a relatively new sport that has gained much popularity recently, but will it ever be a part of the Olympic Winter Games?
Having grown up playing lots of hockey and skating on the Rideau Canal, I personally fell in love with ice cross when I first saw it. It involves four skaters racing down a track at once, hitting jumps and making crazy turns. The first one to cross the finish line wins. Do you really need anything else to make a sport interesting?
Most people know the sport by its ‘Red Bull Crashed Ice’ name on TV. This extreme sport is now regularly shown on sports channels and features high quality commercial sponsors. In addition, the sport itself has a very international feel – much as most winter events can get.
While some will say that Olympic sports should be traditional in nature, things seem to have changed recently. Ice cross would definitely not be the first ‘extreme sport’ added to the Winter Games – think halfpipe and slopestyle events – giving it several similarities to ski and snowboard competitions that already exist.
The sport of ice cross features heats of four racers at a time heading downhill at insane speeds on an outdoor course littered with several obstacles, similar to ski cross and snowboard cross. Every course has different features that the competitors have to manage, ranging from large jumps, hills and rollers to extremely sharp turns and quarterpipes.
With four skaters competing at one time, there is always a chance of collisions occurring. However, contact must be incidental and any intentional contact can result in the disqualification of a competitor. Some of the skills that help athletes on one course could come around to hurt them on another one.
The sport’s world tour, which held its first race in 2001, has built a following all around the world. According to a promo video, these events draw crowds of over 100,000 spectators. The series changes host locations annually, with races having been held in most of the major winter sport countries: Canada, the Czech Republic, Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland and the USA.
In addition to the international flavour of the hosts, the top athletes in the sport hail from several different countries as well. Over the past five years of the tour, the top overall rider at season’s end has been won by athletes from five nations: Austria, Canada, Finland, Germany, and Switzerland.
Taking a look at the World Ice Cross Association’s website, there are at least 20 countries that have National Ice Cross associations. Four different continents have National Associations: Asia, Australia, Europe and North America.
In a move to help legitimize the sport, the International Ice Cross Sports Federation (IICSF) was founded in 2014 to “govern, develop and promote the sport worldwide”. One of the federation’s goals, as listed on their website, is to “be a part of and contribute to the success of the Winter Olympic Games”.
In my opinion, ice cross is perfectly suited to being a sport at the Olympic Winter Games. The IOC recognizes three main Olympic Values: excellence, friendship and respect.
Not only is the level of competition high enough (excellence), but also the culture of the sport would be a great fit. Almost every race that I have seen ends with the four competitors congratulating or consoling each other. If that does scream “Friendship” and “Respect”, then I don’t know what does.
While ice cross has been a traditionally male-dominated sport, the female series has also taken off recently. A total of six races exclusively for women have been held, the most recent of which featured 28 competitors from five different countries. In fact one of the top female riders, Salla Kyhala of Finland, has even competed against the men on several occasions.
In addition to the men’s and women’s events, there is also a team ice cross event. The format has changed recently and now features two teams of three battling each other in an elimination format.
If you haven’t yet watched a race, make sure to catch the final race of the season from Edmonton March 12-14, because it seems that ice cross may soon be crashing the party that is the Olympic Winter Games.