Jacqueline Legere is in the starting chute, breath rising into the frigid air as she stares off the edge of the earth.
The Red Bull Crashed Ice course in St. Paul starts atop three stories of scaffolding erected on the front steps of the Minnesota capital’s namesake hilltop cathedral. Twelve feet from the chute is a sheer 6-foot drop which leads abruptly into a steep, icy slope. From there, riders hit speeds exceeding 30 miles per hour on the frozen 340-meter downhill obstacle course that snakes over berms, through hairpins and into jumps that finally subside at the flat-surface finish line some 114 feet below.
From their perch, Legere and her three fellow riders can see almost none of that. They can only hear the cheers and groans of 100,000 people huddled against sub-freezing temperatures, feel the arena rock and hip-hop shake the metal, wood and ice beneath their blades, and look out onto city’s night skyline and the abyss that awaits mere inches in front of them.
Legere lives for the jump, the eyes-open leap into the arms of the unknown. Adventure is what drew the Ontario native to the extreme winter sport — basically a mashup of motocross, speed skating and roller derby — six years ago. Last year, she won the Red Bull Crashed Ice’s first-ever women’s world championship at age 24. This season started off perfectly with a win in France. But a fifth-place finish in Finland has her stuck in second place in the standings behind the U.S.’s Amanda Trunzo. With only four races in the championship, she probably needs at least a podium here to stay in striking distance for the final event in Ottawa on Saturday.
The official calls the competitors to attention over the microphone.
Legere leans in, small muscular frame packed in hockey pads and a neon pink jersey, long blonde ponytail dripping from beneath the back of her helmet, hands on the starting blocks.
She is ice-sculpture still, ski goggles focused on that ledge.
The air horn sounds. Legere pushes off the blocks, digging her skates into the ice for three powerful pushes before hitting the ledge and throwing herself into to air beyond.
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