You may think it’s just ice, how complicated can that be? Although ice is h2o in a frozen state, during the PyeongChang games the ice has to be just right.
The man behind the magic of perfecting the sheets of ice on the four rinks at the Gangneung Curling Centre is Hans Wuthrich.
Around the rink he’s known as the ‘ice-meister’ and he plays an extremely crucial role in the Olympics. He is responsible for ensuring that the ice is perfect before each and every competition.
The 60 year old who is working his third Olympic games said he still gets nervous. ‘It’s just like the players, you have to perform or you’re out,” “This is my third Olympics and I still get nervous. You have to be. If you’re not, then you’re not a good ice-maker.”
Nerves are all a part of the craft, a craft in which he has plenty of experience with. Wuthrich who hails from Switzerland has been making ice during the winter for over 40 years, that’s more than half his life dedicated to ice making.
An hour before a curling competition, Hans begins his routine. By now he has his routine down to a science and it differs for each sport. “Out of all the ice-making at the Games, curling is probably the hardest as there’s so many factors which influence how it plays, ranging from the water quality to the air temperature, dew point, humidity… the list goes on.”
Similiar factors go into preparing ice for a hockey game. However, Hans has a little more wiggle room for error since he can be a few tenths of a degree off and it won’t have too big of an impact.
Whereas with curling, there is little room for error since the slightest difference can change the entire game. “…curling there’s a very thin line where rocks do exactly what you want them to do. The ice has to allow a rock to have between four and five feet of curl, taking between 24 and 26 seconds from start to finish”
The most difficult task Hans faces? Keeping and maintaining the correct ice temperature. Minus five degrees Celsius is the magic number for the rink in PyeongChang. With all the lights, cameras and body heat of athletes and fans it can be difficult at times to keep the ice at the correct temperature. Hans said “”It’s a very exact science to make curling work as a TV sport.”
In sports like curling and hockey the status of the ice is a crucial factor in the flow of the game. If ice is too choppy and the puck bounces weird or if a rock doesn’t curl and do exactly what the athlete wants, it’s bad news for Hans.
“You’ll see as the competition goes on and they start losing, they always start blaming the ice. That’s a normal occurrence. You’ll hear them on TV saying things like, ‘It’s too straight’ or ‘It’s too heavy’.”
Over the years Hans has developed a thick skin to the negative comments and it only pushes him to do better next time. From the little grain farm in Switzerland to now making ice for the largest of stages, the ‘ice-meister’ has come a long way.
So the next time you turn on a curling match, or sit down to watch a hockey game, remember the science and routine that went into that perfect sheet of ice and it all began with Hans.