Austria's Marco Dallago has quietly fought his way back towards the top of the Ice Cross Downhill Championship standings this season -- after two years of disappointment -- with lots of hard work and gutsy determination. And after those two difficult, injury-filled seasons that saw the 2014 world champion fall to sixth in 2015 and out of the top 10 in 2016, Dallago is the number one European in the sport and silently lurking within striking distance of the three leaders in fourth position overall heading into the season finale on March 3-4 in Ottawa. He is at 2,088.5 points in the championship and only 511.5 points behind overall leader Cameron Naasz (USA) with 1,000 points up for grabs for the race winner in the Canadian capital on March 3-4.
Dallago's unforgettable sprint from fourth place to second through heavy traffic in the final meters of the last Red Bull Crashed Ice race in Saint Paul, Minnesota on February 4, will long be remembered as one of the most amazing finishes in the sport's history. Serving as a fitting metaphor for Dallago's whole career, his never-say-die spirit and his strong comeback this season, the Austrian ace brilliantly threaded the needle in the final 20 meters of the 340-meter long track and passed American Cameron Naasz as well as Canada's Kyle Croxall and nearly passed the winner Dean Moriarity of Canada too with his ferocious finish.
"It doesn't matter how bleak things are looking, the important thing is to keep going all out," said Dallago, 26. "I've seen how things sometimes work out in this sport if you never give up. I saw those three guys in front of me all going over the final jump towards the finish line, and had a feeling they were going to knock each other out. So I just kept pushing as hard as I could. And that's exactly what happened and I made the most of it."
Dallago has made the most of this season, impressively demonstrating that it is hard to beat a racer like him with an unstoppable combination of experience, wisdom, talent and hard work. He won the Riders Cup race in Wagrain-Kleinarl at home in Austria, took fourth at the Red Bull Crashed Ice race in Marseille, France and was fifth at Jyväskylä, Finland before getting second in Saint Paul.
"Before getting a series of injuries last season, I was actually in the best shape of my life," said Dallago. "I was really annoyed that I wasn't able to race all out in any of the races last year and that made me determined to be in peak condition again this season. What especially motivates me is that I can see so much potential to improve further. I can hardly wait until the off-season and the next season so I can start working on some of my ideas to improve."
Dallago has been on a non-stop mission to improve since he broke into the world's fastest sport on skates in 2011 with a 36th place in Munich. He trained hard in the off-season with his brother Luca, and became a top rider in his second season. He has three Red Bull Crashed Ice victories and eight podiums since then.
"I see a lot of racers who seem to give up too soon on the track and don't try to take more advantage of the high probability in this sport that something happens that's not supposed to happen," said Dallago. "My season this year shows that it pays to fight all the way to the finish."
The Dallago brothers dedicated their 2013 summer to making a big stride forward in the sport. They adopted training methods from sports like hockey to get back in shape. They also trained hard throughout the off-season with weights in the gym, running, cycling and hockey. He and Luca built a 200-meter-long wooden track on their parents' forested land for ice cross downhill–specific practice on inline skates.
"What fascinates me about Ice Cross Downhill is that there is so much potential to keep improving," he said. "This sport is my whole life right now. There's nothing I'd rather be doing than racing down hill on skates. It's becoming harder and harder each year because the competition is getting more intense all the time."
Dallago says that in many ways it was probably easier to win the 2014 championship than it is to make it to the final four or even top 10 now. "The whole level of the sport has increased enormously," he said, in part because of the efforts he and his brother have made in the off-season. "If you can finish somewhere in the top 10 now, that probably would have been good enough to win the race a few years ago. Someone somewhere out there is always pushing the envelope, and a year later everyone else tries to catch up. It's more exciting than ever before and that's great for the sport and spectators."