Maxwell Dunne had never even made it onto a podium with a top-three finish at a Red Bull Crashed Ice race before this season and the hard-charging American has not yet won a race in the world's fastest sport on skates. But the 26-year-old former decathlete has nevertheless stormed to the top of the Ice Cross Downhill World Championship at the midway point of the season as the epitome of consistency – three straight second-place finishes.
Dunne, who only joined the sport that is celebrating its 17th season in 2015, has stunned the star-studded elite of five former and reigning world champions with his blinding speed out of the gates and muscular finesse down the obstacle-filled ice tracks. The Minnesota native, a former all-American decathlete at St. Thomas University, has upset one favorite after another with an uncanny ability to stay on his feet and avoid mistakes that more than make up for his relative lack of experience. After a career-best fourth in Saint Paul last year in the race that features four athletes trying to advance to the next round by taking first or second place, he got his first three podiums with a hot streak that included second in Marseille, France, Jyväsyklä, Finland and Rautalampi, Finland
"My goal coming into this season was to keep improving every race so I was hoping to get a third place, that was my goal," said Dunne, who has 1,800 points and leads his training mate and fellow Minnesotan Cameron Naasz by 50 points. "To take second in Marseille was almost unbelievable. And doing it again and again was unreal. Ending up first in the championship at this point wasn't expected, but on the other hand, I knew I could do it. I put a lot of work into it."
Dunne, who grew up in a suburb just south of Saint Paul, had his eye on the Red Bull Crashed Ice since its debut in Saint Paul in 2012 but first decided to focus on his university career as a decathlete and heptathlete, where he was a three time all-American. After graduating, he joined an Ice Cross Downhill training group in 2015 with Naasz, Andrew Swanson and Tommy Mertz where they pushed each hard through grueling off-season workouts. Naasz used those workouts as a launching pad for the 2016 championship while Dunne learned countless valuable lessons from his hard-working mentor and by taking part in all 10 races of the 2015/16 world tour. Considered to be one of the most fearless athletes in the sport, Dunne also holds the record for fastest-recorded speed – 82 km/h down the 45-degree, rain-slickened track in Munich in 2016.
"I got better in every race last year," said Dunne, who works as a substitute teacher when not training almost full-time year-round. He is also a high school pole vault coach. He also got as much experience as possible in the team competition with his Team UNRL that took second place overall last year.
"Experience is huge in the sport. The first time you step on track it's a shock. It's so difficult to train for it because no one has an Ice Cross Downhill course in their backyard to practice on. So you have to take advantage of every chance you get."
Like most in Minnesota, he began ice skating at an early age: 5. But unlike many Ice Cross Downhill athletes, he doesn't have much of a hockey background. He has come of age in individual sports and believes that is a huge asset. He is always looking for better lines and better ways to train and race, and he has tried to apply many of the lessons he learned as a decathlete to Ice Cross Downhill.
"I'm very proud of my starts," said Dunne, who has surprised many higher-seeded favorites this year with lightning fast starts. "I had a lot of explosive training and try to mimic starts like I would for track and field. I try to minimize everything and start in the most powerful position possible. I need to get better in the time trials so I can have a better gate choice." Dunne has often made it to the top 10 in time trials but that means in the final four he is relegated to an outside gate while the faster time trial specialists such as Naasz and Canada's Scott Croxall have often had the inside track from the middle gates.
Dunne, who turns 27 on Monday, insists that he is not feeling any special pressure as the new overall leader in front of an expected huge home crowd of 100,000 on Saturday. "I feel pressure every week to do my best," he said with a smile. "I always feel a little pressure but it's not going to cause me to cave. Pressure is good. It gets you pumped up, it gets you excited to do your best. I'm ready to go."
Watch it Live
Red Bull Crashed Ice Saint Paul will broadcast LIVE on redbullcrashedice.com and Red Bull TV on February 4th at 8.00 PM CST (2:00 AM GMT).
Red Bull TV is available on connected TVs, gaming consoles, mobile devices and more. For a full list of supported devices visit about.redbull.tv.
If you miss the event or simply want to watch all the action again, the replay will be available on demand a few minutes after the event.