How the Curling Ice in Beijing Was Made for the Olympics

How the Curling Ice in Beijing Was Made for the Olympics

BEIJING — Ice may simply appear to be ice.

However not in curling.

The frozen sheets created for elite competitions just like the Olympics are the product of a painstaking course of below the route of a staff of specialists hewing to the actual calls for of guaranteeing a heavy stone, aided by the livid sweeping of a brush, glides gracefully down a observe.

Even in the most effective of circumstances, in services constructed for the game, the job is a tense one. In Beijing, it has been an entire different story.

The world’s consultants on creating ice worthy of Olympic-class curling have been handed a problem extra daunting than something they’d confronted: Flip an Olympic-size swimming pool within the Nationwide Aquatics Middle into lanes of ice prepared for the world’s finest curlers.

“It’s by no means actually been carried out earlier than,” stated Hans R. Wuthrich, the chief ice technician for the Beijing Video games, his fourth Olympics and simply one among many elite competitions in his decades-long profession.

Chinese language officers have boasted about Beijing’s standing as the one metropolis that has hosted each the Summer season and Winter Video games — a feat achieved, partly, by recycling venues constructed for the 2008 Olympics.

Curling occasions are within the natatorium with the honeycomb exterior, which was identified in 2008 because the Water Dice and the place Michael Phelps received eight gold medals for the US. For the Winter Video games, it has been rechristened because the Ice Dice. However getting it prepared was hardly so simple as altering its title.

A primary problem was to assemble the infrastructure to carry up the ice. The pool was stuffed with a steel scaffolding system topped by a layer of concrete.

Then got here making the ice — and an early impediment: The Dice’s faucet water had a studying of 375 components per million of whole dissolved solids, like salts, minerals and ions. That quantity is suitable for ingesting water, however freeze it, and it’s nonetheless not ok to curve on. The impurities have an effect on the power to make the sheets as flat as they are often.

The staff used filtration programs to clear the water. However by the point they have been carried out, it was too pure for human consumption.

“For those who truly drank it,” Mark Callan, the deputy ice technician for the curling occasions, stated, “it might burn your insides.”

Exterior, water freezes from the highest down, making a floor that’s wildly inconsistent. Inside, “you’ve bought to go very slowly,” Callan stated, “and permit it to freeze the water from the underside up.”

As soon as the higher layers freeze, white paint, logos and different markings are added. In all, the ice is 10 centimeters thick, or practically 4 inches.

The subsequent hurdle was the air. The constructing was too dry — “which is a bit ironic,” Callan stated, “being we’re in a swimming pool.”

The staff put in a system of humidifiers releasing a relentless mist across the periphery of the ice. That also wasn’t sufficient. Wuthrich took pleasure within the answer: filling a smaller pool not removed from the ice with sizzling water. “Everybody thinks we’re completely loopy,” he stated in a post on Twitter, together with {a photograph} displaying it off.

Even after the ice is frozen to their specs, the technicians proceed fussing over particulars, monitoring the ice and the ambiance round it at a granular stage: too heat, too chilly, an excessive amount of moisture, too little moisture, not sufficient texture for the stone to glide. Any deviation can have an outsize impression on the competitors.

“We work inside a thousandth of an inch of accuracy,” Wuthrich stated after his staff completed the ice for a spherical of girls’s matches.

The precision of the work contradicts a notion that so far as Olympic sports activities go, curling is straightforward. The game is extensively accessible, and in newbie golf equipment, individuals go for a beer and time.

However on the Olympic stage, it’s pushed by athleticism and technique, and the power to learn and know the ice is a key to successful. As a lot because the brooms and the stones, it’s in regards to the ice.

“It’s a sport of talent, not a sport of probability,” Callan stated. “So in case you can’t present constant circumstances, then you definitely begin to negate the talent stage, and it turns into extra of a sport of probability — and it’s our job to guarantee that’s not the case.”

Wuthrich and Callan — together with a 3rd ice technician, Shawn Olesen — have been drawn to this area of interest profession by a ardour for curling. They’ve day jobs. Wuthrich, who lives in Manitoba, owns a landscaping firm and nursery; Callan, who lives in Glasgow, Scotland, is the director of gross sales for the corporate that makes the stones utilized in elite curling occasions by mining granite from an island off Scotland.

As a lot as they discover the work satisfying, additionally they acknowledge the stress that comes with it.

“It’s the head of every part, and as an ice maker, it’s the identical factor,” Wuthrich stated of the Olympics. “You’ve bought to be in your toes on a regular basis. If any little factor occurs, you must repair it. You must make it the very best as a result of folks tried for 20 years to get to this occasion.”

One evening, earlier than the day’s final spherical of video games, the three technicians — together with a crew of practically two dozen Chinese language volunteers, most of them faculty college students — went by means of their ice preparation routine.

The crew used an ice scraper to even out the lanes. Callan wore a backpack with a canister of water and a sprayer that regarded like a bathe head. Strutting backward on the lanes, he sprayed droplets of water to create the feel that enables the stones to maneuver throughout the flat floor and spin.

Then they took out a contraption referred to as a rock mover, which allowed them to rake a line of curling stones throughout the ice to simulate play. They need the ice to be damaged in for the gamers.

In a ultimate step, Callan went out with a single stone and examined it. Underneath the phrases of their contract, they’ve to offer ice on which a stone can transfer 4 to 5 toes in 24 to 25 seconds. They intention to maintain the floor temperature of the ice at roughly 23 levels Fahrenheit.

The times are lengthy and getting longer. They arrived in Beijing a month in the past, and there have been over a dozen days of competitors, with as many as three rounds of video games per day. On the job, Wuthrich walks about 10 kilometers a day; as a result of he does the feel pebbling, Callan will get in 12 kilometers.

They begin every morning at 6. Currently, problems have kept creeping up, that means they’re usually working till 1 a.m.

On Monday evening, because the South Korea girls’s staff was working towards a 5-point lead over Japan, Wuthrich walked away from the ice and sat again for a second. He imagined himself dwelling in Manitoba, his two black Labrador retrievers nestled on both facet of him. He savored the thought, however went again inside, the place the curlers have been deep in competitors, strategizing and shouting.

His eyes have been on the ice.

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