Meet PyeongChang 2018's 'ice-meister'

  • © WCF / Richard Gray

Deep inside the bowels of Gangneung Curling Centre, one man is monitoring the four rinks more closely than any other.

Canada's Hans Wuthrich, known colloquially as an 'ice-meister', is the man tasked with making perfect sheets of ice for the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games curling tournament.

"It's just like the players, you have to perform or you're out," the 60-year-old said. "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."

An hour before each session, Wuthrich begins his precise routine. "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.

"With hockey, if you're a couple of tenths of a degree off, it doesn't matter, but with 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. If the rocks only curl for two feet, then it just doesn't work."

Before the curlers take to the ice, Wuthrich scrapes it flat using a resurfacing machine and then adds tiny droplets of water, two to three millimetres in size, called pebbles. "The rocks glide on those little pebbles," he explains. "They don't actually touch the ice, they touch those pebbles. And that's how you can move them easily.

"We always put two (layers of) pebbles on, one on top of the other to create a safety layer, so the surface can never go flat or get out of line."

One of the hardest things is maintaining the correct ice temperature, which in Gangneung Curling Centre is minus five degrees Celsius. "Curling used to be just an outdoor game but in these big arenas with lights, cameras and lots of people there's a lot of heat around, and if the temperature gets too high then the rocks won't glide and it's hard to get them down the ice," Wuthrich said. "It's a very exact science to make curling work as a TV sport."

If the ice does not play exactly as the athletes expect, then the 'ice-meister' is often the first to feel their wrath. "You've got to have a thick skin," he said.

"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'."

But Wuthrich has come a long way from the young man who began making ice during the winter because there was nothing else to do on the grain farm where he worked for the rest of the year. "It's been almost 40 years now since I started tinkering with ice.

"I grew up in Switzerland and I was always intrigued by curling in the mountain resorts, where rich people in fur coats would play the sport. I've since worked at world championships, European championships, Canadian championships and now the Olympic Games. I never imagined I'd get this far."

article provided by the Olympic Information Service