The Olympic team event of curling depends on the skill of the ice master. Along with strategy and careful moves, the sport relies on the dedication and planning of technicians to prepare the ice. Although played on an ice surface, the playing area is not a smooth one, as in hockey or figure skating. Curling ice is unique and depends on the proper temperatures, humidity and maintenance by trained ice masters.
Curling became a pastime in the 1500’s, during the long winters in Scotland. It was an outside activity played on local ponds, which had uneven ice surfaces. To mimic the original playing area, modern curling sheets have required the process of pebbling to ensure the proper performance of the curling stone. Much like oiling a bowling lane to produce a spin, pebbling provides more gliding power to the curling stone and adds to the odds of reaching the target.
The sport itself can be compared to shuffleboard and involves two teams of four. The intricacies and details to get it all right depend on the ice master who prepares the indoor ice playing area.
Curling became more organized in Scotland when the official rules were recorded in 1838. It debuted as an Olympic sport in 1924, but was put on demonstration status for the next winter Olympics in 1932. There seemed to be some debate over whether it was really a sport fit for competition. It took over a half a century for curling to reappear in the Olympics again, coming back as a demonstration sport in 1988 and 1992. Curlers cheered when their sport was finally recognized as an official sport and worthy to be in the Olympic competition in 1998.
Team members do not wear ice skates. They use regular athletic shoes with one sole covered in Teflon for ease of sliding. The curling stone is a circular, concave granite piece weighing between 38 and 44 pounds. The granite used is found on the Scottish Island of Ailsa Craig and in the Trefor granite quarry in Wales. The granite is quite dense which allows for little water absorption of the stone and is crucial to the sport.
Sochi has already been experiencing water woes, so the special machines to produce curling ice is a necessity. Hans Wuthrich from Manitoba, Canada and his assistants work around the clock to prepare the curling ice. Wuthrich is the true ice master when it comes to creating the exact ice surface needed for curling. He relies on technology, using computers to help monitor the proper ice temperature and humidity. The ice technicians require water purifying tanks so any melted ice will not leave behind solid debris on the surface. In addition to the tanks, carbon filters and water softeners are needed.
Before a curling match, Wuthrich and his team shave the ice floor and flood it with new clean water. As proper temperatures are reached, the pebbling process begins. Each technician walks the curling playing area with water tanks on their backs, spraying droplets through copper wands. Two coats of ice allow for the unique surface to be created, similar to the ponds of yore. The process is usually repeated halfway through the match and again daily.
Curling is a safer sport in general compared to snowboarding, skiing and the luge. However, it can be risky if players slip and fall or somehow lob a stone into someone’s leg. An interesting sport with a bit of unusual history, curling is making a comeback in the US and Canada. The path to winning an Olympic medal in curling greatly depends of the skill of the ice masters, as well as the whole team of players. The ones who make the ice and wave their copper wands, compete against nature in a way, deserving of a medal of their own.
By: Roanne FitzGibbon