Language flap over extreme skating race in Quebec

A Quebec language rights group is pressing organizers of a popular extreme skating race to translate the event's name to French.

Women take part in breakneck speed skating race for first time this year

A Quebec language rights group is pressing organizers of a popular extreme skating race to translate the event's name to French.

Crashed Ice is an annual skating race through Quebec City's old city centre that involves heavily padded contestants barrelling down a steep 550-metre ice track at breakneck speeds.

Energy drink producer Red Bull sponsors the event, which has always been called Crashed Ice, but the name isn't appropriate in Quebec City, said Mouvement Montréal français, a French language lobby group.

About 30 of the group's members protested in downtown Montreal Friday afternoon, chanting slogans like "Red Bull spits on French."

The race should be called "Patinage extrème" (extreme skating) or "Descente casse-cou" (Breakneck descent) out of respect for the fans, said group spokeswoman Sophie Beaupré.

Most of the race's estimated 100,000 spectators are francophone, she said.

Red Bull should follow the example set by its Italian affiliate, which calls its Formula 1 team "Toro Rosso."

The provincial government said Friday it would ask the company to have a logo or another name that would give some indication, in French, that the event takes place in Quebec.

"It is clear in Quebec that French comes first," said Quebec Employment Minister Sam Hamad.

Red Bull argues the event takes place in several countries, including Russia, the U.S. and Sweden, and everywhere, it is called Crashed Ice.

"We have committed to keeping a consistent and recognizable name," said Red Bull Canada director of communications Lubor Keliar. "However, we always strive to offer all event-related materials and content in the host country's native languages."

Women race for the first time

The 2009 race will feature a women's competition for the first time in the race's Quebec history.

Jodie Bracco, one of 20 women vying for 16 spots in the finals, admits to being a bit scared about the race and "not knowing what it's gonna feel like, [given] how fast you're gonna be going," she said.

Bracco, who hails from Kanata, an Ottawa suburb, also admits to never having done anything like this before.

The huge crowds will be daunting, said contestant Jessica Hunter-Newman.

"Hopefully, I can keep it under wraps," said the Langley, B.C., native.

"The unknown is what is exciting, but it's what is scary, too."

Preliminary rounds start Friday night, with the men's and women's finals scheduled for Saturday night.

The event will see 100 skaters from around the world race on an ice course that runs from Chateau Frontenac to the Old Port for prizes up to $5,000.

The race has been held in Quebec City since 2006.