Mark Callan is taking a slow backwards shuffle down one of the sheets of ice at Lillehammer’s Curling Hall, his eyes moving from side to side as he searches the surface for the tiniest of imperfections.
The chief ice technician for curling at the Lillehammer 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games is a perfectionist; the more care taken over the art of making curling ice, the better the competition will be.
“This comes down to the ice-maker knowing the building and the conditions,’’ said Callan, who is the World Curling Federation’s number one in this specialist art. “Then it comes down to his or her skill to maintain those conditions within the zone.”
To the casual observer, ice is just ice: the field of play at ice hockey is the same as the surface at figure skating. In reality, though, no two ices are the same. Curling ice, for example, is not as cold as that used in professional hockey, but is often softer than the ice found at family-orientated skating rinks.
“First of all you need good water, and there is a very common misconception that you just go out and fill the surface with water, let it freeze and it will be fine,’’ said Callan, who spent more than 275 days last year away from his home in Glasgow, Scotland, working on the ice at stadiums around the world.
Regular city water contains minerals such as sodium, calcium and potassium. When you introduce water containing these minerals to a freezing environment, they can blend together and create something heavier than water. The end result is dips in the ice.
Callan and his deputy technician, Jamie Danbrook of Canada, use water that has been run through a de-ionising system to remove impurities.
For YOG, they began work on the four curling fields of play last week and have been fine-tuning them ever since. After television crews needed access to the surface earlier this week, Callan and Danbrook went to work on restoring the ice to its optimal working state.
They scraped the ice with the Ice Boss, a purpose-built machine fixed with a super-sharp blade, overlapping each time until the surface was completely flat. Then it was time to prepare the surface for ‘pebbling’, the technique that puts the curl in curling. Pebbling is a treatment where droplets of water are sprayed onto the ice, where it freezes instantly and creates the texture that allows pockets of air beneath the rocks.
With more than two dozen YOG athletes on the four sheets of ice at certain times, it is critical for Callan to constantly monitor conditions. He uses a wireless system that tells him the temperature of the ice and the humidity in the building. “We have to be very proactive in controlling floor temperature, because the temperature of the ice is critical to the success or failure of the game,’’ Callan said.
Callan relies on the curlers to let him know if he has done his job right - and as much as he likes to hear from them, he is happier when he does not.
Written by YIS/ IOC Alan Adams
Alan Adams is a reporter for the Lillehammer Youth Information Service ‘YIS’. Based in Toronto, Canada, he has covered sports since the mid-1980s including covering five Winter Olympic Games.