Finland's Mirko Lahti won the inaugural Red Bull Crashed Ice Junior World Championship on Friday in Ottawa after collecting his third straight victory in the new competition designed to introduce more young athletes to the world's fastest sport on skates. The flying Finn narrowly beat Canada's Samuel Nadeau into second place and Finland's Joni Saarinen into third in a photo finish on a freezing cold night of action-packed downhill racing that kicked off Ottawa 2017, a year of celebrations in honour of Canada's 150th union as a nation.
Lahti, a 20-year-old who dominated the new Junior World Championship competition created this season for athletes aged 16 to 21 with three wins in the four races this season, opened a comfortable lead right after the start, a breathtakingly steep freefall, and led throughout on the obstacle-filled track packed with jumps, bumps and tight turns. But he stumbled on the final jump and was nearly passed by Nadeau and Saarinen yet somehow managed to hang on for the win.
"I made a mistake there at the end, I came in too fast, had to brake and made a little crash," said Lahti. "It was a close call. I'm happy to win it. It's an amazing feeling to win the championship."
With temperatures falling to 14 degrees below zero Celsius, France's Martin Barrau won the freestyle competition with a dazzling trick-filled performance in front of the enthusiastic crowd taking in the action on the 375-meter track resembling a frozen waterfall set up on the iconic Ottawa Locks in the Rideau Canal that runs between the majestic parliament building and the Fairmont Château Laurier hotel. Barrau's awe-inspiring "Superman Front Flip" drew cheers from the spectators and earned him a superb score of 26 out of a possible 30 from the three judges. "This track is perfect for freestyle," said Barrau.
Earlier on Friday, Ice Cross Downhill championship leader Cameron Naasz of the United States took pole position for Saturday's grand finale with the fastest Shootout time, giving him gate choice in every round and an important psychological edge over his three remaining challengers for the title: Maxwell Dunne (USA), Scott Croxall (CAN) and Marco Dallago (AUT). In the women's competition, championship leader Amanda Trunzo had a dismal day and failed to qualify for the 16-woman final after finishing in 18th position. That means Canada's Jacqueline Legere and Myriam Trepanier could win the title with a victory on Saturday, although Trunzo could still take the championship without even strapping on her skates if Legere doesn't win or Trepanier finishes third or worse.
In Ice Cross Downhill, athletes from 22 countries and five continents race down the obstacle-filled track four-at-a-time at speeds of up to 80 km/h. The first two racers to cross the finish line advance to the next round as the field is gradually whittled down through one round at a time from 64 to a final 4.
Ottawa Results: 1. Mirko Lahti (FIN), 2. Samuel Nadeau (CAN), 3. Joni Saarinen (FIN), 4. Petar Sevo (NED), 5. Dmitriy Murlichkin (RUS) 6. Martin Barrau (FRA), 7. Vaclav Kosnar (CZE), 8. Marc Andre Roy (CAN), 9. Pierre-Marc Lessard (CAN), 10. Oliver Isaac (CAN).
Junior World Championship final results: 1. Lahti (2,000 points), 2. Saarinen (1,600), 3. Nadeau (1,600), 4. Barrau (1,400), 5. Kosnar (1,050), 6. Jesse Sauren (FIN) 1,040, 7. Sevo 950, 8. Murlichkin (950), 9. Isaac 860, 10. Maximillian Hohl (AUT) 720.