With seven wins from the last 11 races, Finnish racers have reigned supreme in Red Bull Crashed Ice competition over the past three years, a dominance crowned by Arttu Pihlainen’s world championship triumph on Saturday, March 19.
Pihlainen has five of those seven Finnish victories to his name but Finland has other stars aside from Pihlainen, a softly-spoken sports teacher from Jyväskylä, whose three race wins in 2011, in Quebec City, Moscow and Valkenburg, secured him the overall title.
“I think we’re all good skaters,” said Pihlainen, when asked why such a small nation like Finland punches so far above its weight in the Red Bull Crashed Ice World Championship. “We have a strong hockey background plus we’re all either snowboarders or ski crossers. We’re used to doing Alpine skiing and especially downhill.”
'It's becoming more popular... the competition is getting harder'
Many have tried to analyse Pihlainen’s skating to learn why 'R2D2' has been so dominant this year. In the final races in Quebec City, Pihlainen was well ahead of his three rivals even before the first jump, dominating the competition by getting out in front early and staying clear of the traffic behind him.
One theory put forward is that Pihlainen is considerably lighter than many of his bigger rivals. Kyle Croxall, the only man to seriously rival the Finn in 2011, admitted after the race in Quebec City that he felt sluggish by comparison.
Fearlessness also helps, particularly if you're racing down an ice track at speeds of up to 70kph. “You cannot think about crashing or what could happen,” said Pihlainen, who bounced back from a disappointing 17th place in 2010 to win the 2011 title so convincingly. “You have to concentrate when you’re in the track otherwise you’ll be wasted. But there are some tracks, some places where you think ‘what’ll happen if I fall down there?’ But you just have to block it all out.”
The sport has gained popularity in Finland thanks in part to the racers’ success but also due to the thrilling 2007 race in Helsinki and Pihlainen is confident the sport will continue to flourish.
“It’s becoming more popular but it’s not yet a really big thing in Finland,” he said. “They show the races on TV. People know about it but not that much yet. The level of competition is getting harder every year and they will attract better skaters all the time. But those of us who have been doing it for a while now will have the advantage of more experience.”