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Feb. 17 2010 - 8:03 am | 1,128 views | 1 recommendation | 2 comments

Bad Ice at Speed Skating Venue Another Embarrassment at the Olympics

An ice resurfacer lays down a layer of clean w...
Image via Wikipedia

On Monday night, the Vancouver Olympics had another hiccup and this one caused an hour long delay in the Men’s 500 meter speed skating. Wait a minute. Speed skating takes place indoors, immune to the vagaries of the spiteful Vancouver weather, which seems determined to derail every alpine event it can.

Despite having three ice making machines on site, they couldn’t make a smooth ice surface for racers. The ice was, to the naked eye, bumpy and wavy – what they call in tort law, full of hills and ridges. It’s not a good ice surface for anything, but for skaters flying around the ice in what is essentially a sprint, the ice could not only slow down times, it could cause serious injuries.

I’m no Bonnie Blair and I’m not Dutch, so I didn’t grow up obsessed with speed skating. There’s a lot I could learn about that sport. However, I know a good bit about ice resurfacing machines.

There are two companies which manufacture ice resurfacing machines, although in common lingo, everybody calls them “Zambonis” for their inventor and creator. Many ice resurfacers are, indeed, manufactured by the Zamboni Company, but there is another company which manufactures ice machines named Olympia, appropriately enough in this case.

The Vancouver Olympics decided to go with Olympia machines rather than Zamboni, still the gold standard in ice cleaners. Some have speculated that Olympia was chosen because these particular resurfacers run on electricity and, thus are more carbon-neutral. Good intentions. Some, (Yahoo’s Martin Rogers) said that some sort of deal might have been struck. Maybe they just thought they were better machines? Who knows.

Whatever the reasoning, there were three Olympia ice resurfacing machines on site and they couldn’t get the ice right.

Zamboni/Ice Resurfacing 101:

A good ice resurfacer in the hands of a skilled, experienced driver on a properly cooled surface can produce a smooth, hard surface in just 12 1/2 minutes start to finish, which is what the NHL requires of its venues.

Basically, an ice resurfacer does three things when it hits the ice: it shaves the ice, it washes the ice, and it lays fresh ice. There is a long thin blade which runs the width of the machine. This blade is on an angle and the driver can adjust the angle of the blade to best shave the ice — to even it out and eliminate any ridge, ruts, and divits left by previous skaters. The shaving process creates snow, which is caught up by several augers under the machine, then the ice is hit by wash water, and behind the machine, water trickles down to make a fresh layer of ice. That’s it in a nutshell.

If you have proper equipment and experienced drivers, this should be done in a flash and it is embarrassing that the cradle of ice hockey couldn’t get even this right.

If they’re still having problems, I suggest they call the the Vancouver Canucks who probably have two Zambonis and couple of skilled drivers they can lend the Olympics. Just saying.


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    The Canucks traded their old Zambonis for a couple of electric Olympias last year. I don’t think they’ve had many problems.
    Speed skating surfaces require a bigger and specially calibrated resurfacer, I believe, which is why they’re bringing a Zamboni in all the way from the Calgary oval.
    It’s a marketing nightmare for the Canadian Olympia – and great for the American Zamboni.

    • collapse expand

      Allan, I read somewhere that the problem was with the blade. Or rather, the blades. But there were so many conflicting stories about the exact problem. Still, it was believable, because of what NBC showed us of the ice. I don’t think the drivers could shave the ice the way they needed to, so when the wash water and fresh ice water hit, it was just a mess, rather than the glass smooth, perfect oval we’re used to.

      Note to self: Buy stock in Zamboni …

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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