Ice technicians are the secret stars of the Winter Olympics

The emphasis of this 12 months’s two-week-long Winter Olympic Video games has been positioned squarely on the Olympians themselves. In any case, the acknowledged goal of the worldwide competitors is to deliver collectively the world’s biggest athletes in a nail-biting competitors throughout fifteen different winter sports.

However earlier than the curlers, skiers, and skaters even arrived in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the Olympians of the ice technician world had been already a number of weeks deep in a contest of their very own. Mark Callan of the World Curling Federation and Markus Aschauer of the Worldwide Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation each say they’re hoping to make one of the best ice the Winter Olympics have ever seen.

To remodel the barren concrete jungle of current tracks and arenas into an ice- and snow-covered wonderland is a gigantic endeavor. And it takes a eager understanding of the physics and chemistry that retains frozen precipitation pristine.


Callan has been making and sustaining ice for greater than 25 years. The Pyeongchang occasion can be his second Olympic Video games because the official ice technician for the World Curling Federation. He arrived on the area two weeks earlier than the video games started with a view to begin getting ready the ice.

“On the [beginning], we’ve got successfully a concrete flooring,” he says. “We begin by cooling the concrete till we get it… round 23 levels Fahrenheit after which we begin to spray water on it to construct ice up.”

Nevertheless it’s not simply any water—in any case, that is the Olympics. Callan says the floor of the curling ice must be completely even, or else the stones don’t slide appropriately. “In a standard faucet or metropolis water, you’ll have fluoride or cooline and different such chemical substances,” he says. “In the course of the freezing course of… these chemical substances pool so that you get a little bit dent within the water, a little bit ripple. So to try to counteract that, we use handled water.” Callan’s group runs the faucet by means of a reverse osmosis and a deionization system. Each processes take away ions and molecules suspended within the water. This ensures solely the purest H2O pours out onto the concrete courtroom.

After the ice is layered on, the technicians, in true Alice and Wonderland style, actually paint the ice to present it that shine you see on TV. Then, they layer on the game-specific markings, like these large bullseyes. When every part else is completed, Callan’s group sprays small droplets of water throughout the hardened floor; that means, there’s one thing lubricating the granite stones as they shuffle throughout.

However this prep work is the best half. Sustaining a constant chill is the place the actual problem lies. “There’s numerous completely different points that may come up,” Callan says. Primary? Physique warmth. “We’ve as much as three,200 folks showing within the constructing for each recreation after which on the finish of it, all of them filter out, and a pair hours later we’ve got to start out once more,” he says. “The constructing goes by means of a giant swing when it comes to its environmental place.” When the constructing is empty save for the ice and upkeep crew, air stops transferring. However the second the crowds return—opening doorways and bringing their physique warmth in with them—all the facility begins to heat.

Coolers within the flooring imply the ice received’t completely soften, however this skyrocketing temperature can have a extra insidious impact. “The most important enemy we’ve got in any curling occasion is frost,” Callan says. Frost varieties when water vapor within the air settles on a floor within the type of ice. However these little chips are nothing just like the pristine ice sheets Callan rigorously curates. Relatively, they’re only one different means of disrupting the peerlessly clean floor of the play area. “If you happen to get frost on the ice,” Callan says, “the stones don’t run very nicely. They cease in a short time they usually curl very inconsistently.” Thankfully, the dehumidifiers within the constructing are usually sturdy sufficient to keep up the world’s equilibrium.

Ultimately, Callan says, he has one overarching objective: that the ice is so clean “one of the best group wins as a result of they’re one of the best group, not as a result of they coped one of the best with the situations.”

Skating and hockey

Different indoor sports activities like skating and hockey require comparable setups. However Callan says there’s one essential distinction. “As a result of a determine skater or a hockey skater [is] powered,” Callan says, “they do not discover these small variations within the surfaces.” Whereas ice upkeep groups are nonetheless cautious to create even sheets of ice for these competitions, Callan says, the ice isn’t as excessive stakes as it’s in curling, the place even a slight divot can completely disrupt the floor.

Nonetheless, sustaining ice for bladed sports activities like these requires a whole lot of time and vitality. Every time an athlete marrs the floor, technicians need to do their finest to patch it on the spot.

Bobsleigh and skeleton

For nonetheless different sports activities like bobsleigh, luge, and skeleton, which happen in open-air however roofed services, issues are a little bit completely different. The ice and snow continues to be made artificially (even when there’s snow and ice already on the bottom), nevertheless it takes a unique technique to keep up.

Markus Aschauer of the Worldwide Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation is main the ice technician group for these three sports activities at Pyeongchang. Much like Callan, Aschauer’s group started with a snaking concrete monitor, which they then cooled and stuffed with clean sheets of ice. However in contrast to a single curling area flooring with one centralized cooling system, this monitor, which seems like a rollercoaster with out automobiles, is ready up in items. “The monitor is in lots of sections,” he says. “There are some sunny spots or some shady spots.”

Aschauer and his group should attempt to attain a constant temperature for all the monitor. A great place is round 26 to 28 levels Fahrenheit—a reasonably slender set of parameters to position on nature. If the ice is just too heat, it begins to frost and even soften. But when it’s too chilly, Aschauer says, “that makes the ice very arduous, like glass, and the ice is cracking.”

As with skate sports activities, Aschauer’s pristine surfaces should deal with immense put on and tear. On this case, three completely different sports activities—luge, bobsleigh, and skeleton—use the identical monitor and have an effect on it in several methods. The four-man bobsleigh, for instance, weighs virtually 1,400 kilos. Given it additionally has an elaborate break system, the sleighs can simply take chunks proper out of the icy monitor.

“It’s very difficult for the ice crew through the video games, it’s a really tight ice schedule,” Aschauer says. “Throughout these three weekends, the entire disciplines are on the tracks many, many occasions.” To maintain issues slick, the ice technicians need to spray down the monitor, which is about 6,200 toes lengthy, as a lot as 5 occasions a day. Every particular person “spritzing” requires about 290 gallons of water.

What to look at for

Callan, Aschauer, and their colleagues depend on time-honed recipes to maintain Olympic ice pristine. However their course of isn’t completely frozen in historical past.

This 12 months, Callan says, they received’t paint the curling markers on as they’ve been up to now. As a substitute, his group will lay out a skinny pores and skin on the floor of the ice with the colourful bullseye already in it. This course of, which mimics screen-printing a t-shirt, will hopefully save the federation cash and Callan time.

And the curling ice group must account for a wholly new sport. This 12 months, as a substitute of simply males’s curling and ladies’s curling, the Olympics will even embody combined doubles curling. As a result of the combined doubles groups transfer much less, the ice droplets scattered on the curling floor can be sprayed out of a barely smaller nozzle. “The water droplets for the lads’s and ladies’s can be barely larger in dimension, to allow them to take extra sweeping and sliding,” Callan says.

Lately, ice technicians have additionally elevated their reliance on good applied sciences to observe their icy services from afar. Whereas Callan nonetheless works 14 hours a day for many of the Olympics, if he heads out for lunch between competitions, he can now monitor the temperature of the ice from his cellphone.

However maybe essentially the most related change, at the very least for viewers at house, is an aesthetic one. “It has to look sharp on TV,” Callan says, “allowing for a whole lot of the TV suppliers are going to shoot them in high-definition.”

Notice: this text beforehand misstated the size of the bobsleigh monitor. It’s about 1,900 meters or 6,233 toes.


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