Brothers brave Red Bull challengeIf the Red Bull Crashed Ice competition seems crazy, that’s because it is.
By: Chris Harrell, The Republican Eagle
If the Red Bull Crashed Ice competition seems crazy, that’s because it is.
On Thursday Jan. 12, Red Bull’s extreme ice skating event will come to the steps of the Cathedral of Saint Paul – divine protection anyone? — and two Red Wing High School alumni will be taking part.
Andrew and Daniel Bergeson, 24 and 21, respectively, are braving the course in a combination of speed skating, slalom skiing and reckless self-endangerment. But that’s all part of the fun.
“It’s kind of interesting because my brother and I have been going through moments of hesitation,” Andrew said. “Both of us were pretty cocky before we went and saw the course. It humbled us a little bit.”
The competition is set to take place on a mammoth scaffold structure that begins north of the Cathedral with an immediate 8-meter drop and runs across its steps before crossing John Ireland Boulevard. From there the course plunges downhill, full of jumps and turns, including a 16-foot-tall wall ride similar to a half pipe. The track is capable of sending skaters upwards of 40 mph.
Daniel said when he and Andrew went to see the course last week they ran into the course director and received tips on what to expect from the races. Red Bull is calling this course the most challenging in the history of the sport and, despite getting advice from the course’s creator, neither brother is sure exactly what to expect.
“He was telling us the ins and outs of the course,” Andrew said. “He said this definitely is the hardest course they’ve ever made. The starting ramp is three stories high; it just keeps going down. It looks a lot harder than any of the ones we’ve seen.”
Both brothers have an extensive history playing hockey — Andrew played three years of varsity for the Wingers and one year at Augsburg College while Daniel played four years of varsity at Red Wing and was the Wingers’ captain his senior season — but without each other the Bergesons may not have never braved tryouts in Duluth.
“It makes it that much better,” Daniel said of racing with his older brother. “If it wasn’t for him I probably wouldn’t be doing it. He’s the one who told me about it. Each of us is pumping the other up for it.”
On the course, the brothers are calling on their experience skiing to get them over the fear of dive-bombing the course creator’s toughest course yet, Andrew said.
Andrew and Daniel have trained three to four days per week for the event by skiing at Welch Village Ski Resort on special shortened skis. The smaller skis help mimic the high speeds they expect Thursday. It is also the closest thing to the thin blades used on a hockey skate.
“On skis, it’s not too bad,” Andrew said. “We got going 55, 60 (mph) without trying too hard. At least now we’re kind of getting used to the speed a little.”
When they first started, Andrew said he thought the brothers had come up with a unique training regimen. It turns out someone else does this.
“We saw that the Swedish national team was doing the same thing,” Andrew said. “It was kind of cool. That was actually the top four guys from Sweden. If we’re doing this, it’s a pretty good training method if they’re doing it too.”
Daniel said his friends think he is crazy for even attempting to skate at such high speeds with all the twists and turns. The track is certainly a doozie.
“There was a little bit of a shock factor seeing it there,” Daniel said. “It looks like it could get pretty chaotic. I watched a bunch of the YouTube videos before and after the tryout. It didn’t look too bad there.”
Andrew’s wife, Samantha, is more nervous than he is to see him compete, he said.
“She wouldn’t get out of the car to look at the track,” he said.
At the trials in Duluth on Dec. 12, Daniel finished first, besting 37 other competitors including Andrew, who finished third. Daniel’s qualifying time was also faster than all but two skaters at the Madison, Wis., and Chicago time trials. Andrew’s time was the fifth best time at those three qualifying events.
“That’s always a confidence boost,” Daniel said. “The skills that were tested at the tryout are similar to what you’ll need to be able to do on the downhill course; being able to go through some of the obstacles under control. The key for going down the hill is keeping your balance and not wiping out.”
When they set out to take part in the competition, the brothers simply wanted to qualify for Thursday’s first round, but now the sights are set a little higher.
“I kind of surprised myself,” Daniel said. “We just wanted to get in the top 15 (at qualifying). Now, I guess our goals have kind of shifted. Thursday they seed all the competition. We’re just trying to get to Friday.”
During Thursday’s competition, the top 64 of 100 Americans will move through to Friday. From that point, the top 64 American and 64 international competitors will race down the course, four at a time, with the top two continuing on in each heat. The fastest 64 at the end of Friday will compete again Saturday in elimination rounds and the top four Americans will be offered a place on Team USA to compete in the Red Bull Crashed Ice World Championship Series the rest of the year.
Red Bull is expecting 70,000 to 100,000 spectators and Andrew said the venue is good.
The cathedral location is as close to perfect as possible and the sport is ideal for Minnesota to host, he said. Having the event so close to home is certainly a bonus, Daniel said.
“I definitely think we’ve got the home ice advantage on this one,” Daniel said.
Qualifying rounds begin Thursday and competition continues through Saturday. Saturday’s elimination rounds start at 7 p.m. but gates open at 4 p.m.
The event is free for the public and more information can be found at the Red Bull Crashed Ice website: www.red-bull.com/CrashedIce.