Cameron Naasz was introduced to ice cross downhill less than two years ago, but already he has become the face — and the future — of the sport in the United States.
The 23-year-old finished third in this season's world championship standings. Naasz won the race in Lausanne, Switzerland, this month, finished second in the Niagara Falls, Ontario, event in December and third in St. Paul, Minn., in January.
In just his second season of competition, Naasz became the most successful American in the recorded history of ice cross downhill. A senior at St. Cloud State, he plans to graduate with a degree in public relations this spring.
How would you describe ice cross downhill?
That's a tough one. Actually, I get that question a lot. I would describe it as ski cross downhill on a shorter, tighter track on ice skates. It's really unexplainable until you see it.
What drew you to the sport?
Definitely the intensity, not only of the athletes, but of the fans as well. It's just amazing to see all these athletes who are now preparing all year-round for this incredible sport and then you come out and we have hundreds of thousands of people there to watch us race for two days only. They're just as ecstatic as we are.
Have any venues been particularly crazy?
Definitely St. Paul [Minn.] this year. That was a huge race for me because it was my hometown. I live right by St. Paul here, and there were 115,000 people [at the race]. The year before, there were 80,000 people, but that difference of 35,000 people was just unbelievable. I was kind of the hometown favorite, so everybody was applauding and seeing my name, and that was definitely the craziest venue that I've been at.
What's the most challenging aspect of the sport for you?
Getting the racing aspect down was big, but I think that kind of went to the wayside once I gained a little bit of confidence and knew that I could make passes. Now the biggest thing I'm working on is consistency. I want to be in the top 16 every single race — no exceptions — and that's really the hardest thing that I'm coming across.
What does the sport need to grow?
I think we're doing pretty good on selling the sport quickly. What I think is really going to have to be done for the sport to grow in the United States is we need to have a permanent track somewhere so we can get more people skating down hills. With only 60 guys getting a chance to skate per year [at the St. Paul's qualifier], unless they're spending their own money to travel all across the world, there's no potential for growth. There's not enough guys getting on the courses for them to have enough experience to get on to the world tour and actually compete.
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