03 Dec Interview with Jim
For those people who like an adrenaline rush, there are some pretty crazy sports out there to try. Downhill mountain biking, climbing, skiing, ultra marathons, there are plenty of options.
One of the newer sports that rates highly on the “that looks crazy meter” is ice cross downhill. Ice cross downhill takes place on a specially constructed downhill track in which 4 skaters race each other to the bottom.
Races are fast, furious and full of jumps, falls and general OMG and WTF moments as the skaters hurtle down the track at 80km/h. If that doesn’t sound crazy enough, the fact that it is sponsored by Red Bull should give you an idea of its street cred.
What you probably don’t know is that our very own coach, Jim D, is a very accomplished ice cross downhill skater. So accomplished in fact that he has been a regular on the ice cross World championship circuit since 2011 and in 2017 recorded his first podium finish (and first win).
What is the history of ice cross downhill?
Jim: The sport has been around since 2001. The story says that the first race was in the fish market in Stockholm. They had a lot of ice to keep the fish cold at the end of the market they had a pile of ice and Stockholm was cold. Somehow they got the idea to skate on that and go downhill.
Then it kept growing over the years and in 2010 it became a World Championship.
What about your sports background?
Jim: My dad used to play a bit of tennis. My mum skied, but nothing too competitive. My uncle and cousins, we used to play a lot of tennis. So we are some kind of tennis family and this is the sport I started to do as a kid.
I played a lot until 13 or 14. Once or twice per day so very competitive. But at that age it was a bit too much. At that age you just want to hang out and smoke cigarettes or some other stuff. And this is why I kind of stopped playing tennis at that time. But I figured out quickly that I needed to do something. I needed to move, to be active.
So what did you decide to do after that?
Jim: So about 1 year after that I started to play hockey. I was always interested to go to the open practice, so I knew how to skate and was self taught. I started to play pretty late because at 15 most kids are either deciding whether or not to go pro or quit altogether.
Were you good straight away?
Jim: No! It took me 2 or 3 years of practice before I could even join a game. After 3 years I had the level to play at the lowest league in Geneva with the juniors. Everything that involved stick handling and game technique I was pretty terrible at, and still not great today. The only point I knew and saw I could improve was being better physically.
So how did you get better?
Jim: At age 15 most guys don’t spend much time at the gym ,but for me this was how I could compensate my lack of stick handling. I really pushed my training and quickly realised that I was quicker than certain guys which allowed me to play at a certain level.
How did you find out about ice cross downhill?
Jim: I learned about a race in Davos, so I thought let’s try it. I was training a lot and trying to catch up with the other guys (2008). I was working a lot on trying to stake faster. I turned up and found I was pretty good at it because I was good at skating in a straight line or going downhill without a puck or stick.
How was the first experience?
Jim: It was a bit scary, because we never went downhill on the ice as you never got the chance to do it. It was new and intriguing.
First time we did it was against the clock with practicing 10 metres at a time just to learn how to go down the track. Then we had to race against other people.
There is no contact allowed because you don’t want to lose your balance and if you fall it can be really hard to recover.
How did you get onto the World Tour?
Jim: 2011 I went and qualified in Germany. I drove to Schwenningen to qualify for the race une Munich. There was no permanent track so we went to a flat ice qualifier. I did 1 lap of 30 seconds and that was enough to qualify. It was a lap with some turns and jumps, like an obstacle track. They wanted to see if you could skate forwards, backwards, sideways but nothing like going downhill.
We had 200 people showing up and they too the 5 best. Luckily for me I was the 5th.
That qualified me for the race in Munich. I meant just to do 1 race for fun. I was still playing hockey and trying to improve which meant lots of training to be fast. But I had no idea this would have a positive impact on the downhill stuff.
I went to Munich and ended up 13th after the time trial and 6th overall with a bit of luck.
I managed to earn enough points to qualify for the rest of the World Cup which was races in Moscow, Quebec and the Valkenburg in the Netherlands. All of these happened in the next 6 weeks. I was lucky enough to have my parents supporting me so I went to all of the races. In fact I have been to every race since then. Its been 39 or 40 since then.
How does the race work?
The way the competition works is you have 4 or 5 practice runs. Then we have 2 time trials. They take the best time and then they rank the racers, 1 against 32 etc. The races are 4×4 and the 2 best advance, a bit like ski cross.
You need to win 5 races to win the whole thing.
On every event there are 150-200 athletes. Right now the top 64 qualify for the race. I always manage to get enough points to qualify for the next year.
So let’s talk training. What type of attributes do you need to be good at ice cross downhill?
Jim: It would be close to sprinting, but not 100m, more like 400m hurdles which requires good speed, power, but also good technique and coordination because you have jumps and turns. It is not a 10 second effort, more like 45. Coordination is very important, but also strength and balance. You need to manage what is happening around you. If someone falls what are you going to do and how are you going to react to that?
So your training was a major part of your success?
Jim: I slowly realised that what I was doing for hockey was helping me to improve at ice cross downhill. I saw that the level was increasing and if I wanted to keep competing and stay on the tour, I needed to train more. This was when I really started to be serious about my training and figure out ways to do that.
I had good years in 2012 and 13. In 13 I won the team championship with a couple of Swiss guys. Then 14 and 15, I started to go down. People were getting better. I thought I would be good forever, but that clearly didn’t work. I thought about quitting but it was too much fun, so I needed to figure out how to improve. Where I had some issue, was it a lack of strength, lack of skill on the ice. This was after 2015. The last race was in Edmonton and I finished 30 something in the ranking. It was enough to stay on tour and I was feeling good, but everyone else was smoking me out of the start and I could not compete. I was light years away from the top guys so I needed to change something.
How did you get into CrossFit?
Jim: I was living in Helsinki at the time. I took 1 month off like I did every year. I was looking for new workout and I saw the video of Mat Fraser doing 15.5 and thought that looked fun so decided to try it.
I loaded my bar to 43kgs, I had never done a thruster in my life before. I had rowed a little bit. I did like 10 thrusters and removed my weight because it was too heavy. I did another 8 and it was too heavy so I unloaded my bar completely. I ended up with an empty 15kg bar for the first round. Rowing was ok as I was used to that. I had done front squats and presses but never any thrusters. Anyway it took me like 18 minutes to complete the workout with an empty bar. I sat down for another 45 minutes just to realise what had happened to me. I had just taken a month off, but I was not out of shape. But I didn’t realise that something could have been that demanding.
So I thought maybe there is something interesting in that kind of workout, but had no idea it was part of CrossFit. So I started to dig into it and learn about it. The more I did it the more I found similarities with my sport. Every race is different and you don’t know what can happen.
Does your training now translate well to your sport?
Jim: All these skills, they are useful to train at the gym. There are no permanent tracks so there is no way to train in the offseason. You can rollerblade or go to the gym. I was doing lots of strength work, but it was not enough. I needed something more to complete my workout and compete with the top guys on the tour.
The start is important because if you are in front you can manage the race and you don’t have to worry about the others. If you are explosive and be first after the first corner, its like half of the race is won as long as you can stay in front.
For the start, the most efficient training was weightlifting. I had never done a clean or snatch before, but hip extension was very useful to the start. Even though in hockey it is 2 or 3 steps, the way you need to be explosive in the snatch or clean and the coordination required was exactly what I needed on the ice.
I wanted to find out what I needed physically for the race and do it on the ice, so for example a couple of power cleans followed by a sprint.
What are your goals for next year?
Jim: It is hard to set goals, but always want to do better. Last season I finished 7th overall which matched my best result from 2013. I was the first Swiss which was a first for me.
I won a race last year which was my first ever on the tour (best main event result was 3rd in Ottawa last year). This was something that I always wanted to finish on the podium or win a race. This should make this year a bit less stressful because I can just focus on my race. I sleep way better now in the summer now that I have achieved that. I am very happy with that and always wanted to do that.
Of course winning the world championship is alwas the ultimate goal, but if you set this objective for yourself you need high expectations. A realistic objective would be to do as well as the previous year.