Don’t expect to have a smooth skate on a curling rink


Hans Wuthrich, right, and Eric Montford prepare the ice sheets between curling matches at the 2014 Winter Olympics on Sunday, Feb. 16. (Robert F. Bukaty / AP)

If you think you can have a smooth skate in a curling rink, think again. A Zamboni — the ice resurfacing vehicle that comes out during hockey games and looks super fun to ride — would be a curling rink’s worst nightmare.

Curling ice is kept intentionally rough by a specialist who more or less hand-pebbles the ice’s surface. So important is getting the surface right, that Olympics organizers hired Hans Wuthrich, a Canadian ice technician who’s so high-profile that he may be the only ice-maker who has his own Wikipedia page.

And it’s a good thing the Olympics found him because keeping the ice right for curling in Sochi has been anything but, pardon the pun, smooth. Wuthrich and his two assistants have had to work around dysfunctional equipment and downed computers.

Wuthrich persevered, however, and the iceman pebbleth. He was able to make a world-class surface through a technique that involves spraying droplets of warm water that freeze on the ice and make tiny, pebble-like bumps. These bumps create less friction for the over-40-pound stones, which allow them to travel farther down the ice and spin (or curl) more after they leave the thrower’s hand.

The pebbled surface of the ice is also why sweeping becomes such an important component in curling. But that part is more about the laws of motion set forth by Isaac Newton than Wuthrich’s ice-surfacing prowess. Wow, for a game that many still associate with guzzling beer with your friends, there certainly is a lot of science.

More Olympics news

NFL all-Pro Vernon Davis loves curling. Why?

U.S. snaps 62-year medal drought in two-man bobsled

The five most hearwarming moments of the Olympics

Bode Miller breaks down during NBC interview

Why the U.S. stinks at curling

U.S. women’s hockey cruises to gold medal game with 6-1 win

Bob Costas returns to NBC’s primetime coverage Monday night

Snowboard cross postponed until Tuesday

Olympic hockey playoff bracket is set

Photos from Day 10 | Daily TV schedule | U.S. medal winners

Marissa Payne writes for The Early Lead, a fast-breaking sports blog, where she focuses on what she calls the “cultural anthropological” side of sports, aka “mostly the fun stuff.” She is also an avid WWE fan.
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