By Caitlin Heffernan
Two brothers from the Glebe have been climbing the world rankings in the extreme sport of ice cross downhill.
Robin and Andrew Worling both placed in the top 10 this year, with Robin, 23, ranking ninth in the men’s category and Andrew, 21, ranking eighth in the junior category.
Ice cross downhill is similar to ski or snowboard cross, with racers skating down an ice track on hockey skates. The sport had its first major event in Sweden in 2001. Rankings are determined by a point system, and the more difficult the track, the higher the available points.
Robin made his debut in 2017 at a race in Ottawa. After signing up online, organizers suggested he practise on an easier track first, since the Ottawa race was on a 1,000-level track (the most difficult level, meaning the winner would receive 1,000 points).
He and a friend drove 14 hours to Bathurst, New Brunswick, only for the race to be cancelled due to bad weather. So they drove the 14 hours back to Ottawa and Robin skated his first race a few weeks later on the 1,000-level Ottawa track built next to the Chateau Laurier.
“I got down it,” he says. “It wasn’t pretty, but I kind of slid down on my ass or my knees most of the way.”
Andrew decided to give ice cross downhill a try after seeing his brother compete. He skated his first race last December in Judenburg, Austria. The only training he did was at an indoor skatepark on rollerblades.
Though both brothers have played hockey and skied their whole lives, switching to ice cross downhill was still a tough challenge.
“Skiing, you have long planks to lean back and forward on,” Robin explains, “whereas skates you’re down to like a foot. So it’s like you’ll always want to lean back, but if you lean back you’re just going to fall right away.”
The mental aspect was challenging for Robin as well.
“You put in all this work and it boils down to 30 or 40 seconds, and if you make a mistake, that’s it, your day is done so quickly. And it’s not like hockey where if you have a bad giveaway, you have defenders to bail you out, a goalie to bail you out, and even if it goes in you can try and get it back the next shift. With ice cross, it’s just one mistake and that’s it. And if you’re halfway around the world and that happens, it’s pretty tough.”
The two have both had major accomplishments this season. Andrew placed second in a junior race in Mont du Lac, Wisconsin in January.
“With that win, without trying to sound cheesy, it was definitely a sweet turning point for me,” he said. “I also somehow managed to come literally 16th in the men’s category, which was just so absurd for me.”
Robin’s biggest accomplishment was his first podium finish – third place at a race in Rautalampi, Finland in February.
Andrew’s season ended on an especially high note in Yokohama, Japan. “I got to race my brother, the person who got me into this sport, on TV for my friends and family to watch.”
Because the sport is relatively new, the ice cross community is extremely close-knit.
“I’ve played a couple competitive sports and I’ve never really done anything that quite compares to the community in ice cross,” Andrew said. “You see these top guys there who I watch on television, and it’s like oh my god, you idolize these people. And they just come talking to you like you’re everyone else, and it’s so cool.
“Obviously on the track, it’s competitive, but you see after every race it usually ends with a big hug and congratulations no matter what place you come in.”
Robin tries to encourage friends to give the sport a try. “It’s such a different and unique sport that you’re going to look like an idiot the first couple times down and you kind of just have to accept that.”
The two compete for Great Britain rather than Canada, as they have dual citizenship through their father. This allows them to enter more races since there are many fewer British skaters.
“It’s always funny when they come up to you and they’re like ‘Oh, whereabouts from England do you live?’ and we’re like ‘Oh, Ottawa!’” Andrew said. “It’s fun for my dad to see that because he’s obviously proud of where he came from, and it’s fun to compete for a country other than Canada just to kind of stand out.”
Andrew’s goal for now is just to stay fit during the off-season. As for Robin? “I’ll hopefully get into the top three one day, I don’t know. We’ll see.” Robin planned to compete in his last race of the season on March 21 in Moscow but that event was cancelled because of the coronavirus.
Caitlin Heffernan is a third-year journalism and linguistics student at Carleton University who loves hockey, classic rock and Douglas Adams novels.