At Olympic Oval, Problems With Ice Resurfacer

For two days in a row, a mechanical problem with the ice-resurfacing machines delayed skating action at the Olympic Oval in Vancouver. Jamie Gibson, assistant director of operations at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., says the ice was "crawling," a problem caused by many factors.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

At the Vancouver Olympics yesterday, the men's 500-meter speed skating final had to be delayed for over an hour because of problems with the ice. After the first half of the race, the ice resurfacing machines left the oval marred by slushy puddles and ridges. Bad ice, said U.S. skater Shani Davis before he pulled out from the race. It took three Olympia resurfacing machines and much consternation before the oval was deemed fit for racing. So, what happened? Well, Jamie Gibson is here to explain. He is assistant director of operations at the Verizon Center here in Washington, that's the NHL venue for the Capitals. And Jamie, more importantly, you have been resurfacing ice for 23 years now, right?

Mr. JAMIE GIBSON (Assistant Director of Operations, Verizon Center, Washington, D.C.): Yeah.

BLOCK: Okay, so you know what you're talking about. You looked the footage last night, right?

Mr. GIBSON: Yes, I was watching.

BLOCK: To me that looked like a pond that I would have skated on when I was growing up: big ripples in the ice. What do you think happened?

Mr. GIBSON: Well, there were a couple of things. The one that I saw was the ice was actually, we call it, crawling. The surface tension of water

BLOCK: Hmm.

Mr. GIBSON: pure water - and you try to use purer water when you're making ice. The surface tension of water is greater the purer it is. So, if the ice temperatures run too low, it'll actually pull together and leave wrinkles on the top of the ice.

BLOCK: So, it kind of buckles.

Mr. GIBSON: Yeah.

BLOCK: Now is that a problem with the resurfacing machine or with the temperature of the oval itself.

Mr. GIBSON: It can be a combination of things. It can be the water is too pure, it can be, you know, different things.

BLOCK: Hmm.

Mr. GIBSON: So

BLOCK: Well, let's talk about these resurfacing machines. We probably know them as Zambonis. The ones in Vancouver are actually Olympias. How do they work? What do they do?

Mr. GIBSON: Both machines have a blade that runs across the ice in the conditioner - that's the part that drops down and touches the ice. They've got wash water to rinse the ice in front of the blade and that gets recycled back into the tank and then they have ice-making water coming out at the back. And then any ice that's shaved goes through the horizontal conveyer when it's thrown to the vertical conveyer and goes up in the front of the machine.

BLOCK: Would this be an ice-maker's worst nightmare, I mean, this is the most high profile venue

Mr. GIBSON: Pretty bad.

BLOCK: a very high profile event.

Mr. GIBSON: Yeah, pretty bad. It's a tough one.

BLOCK: When you were watching what were you thinking?

Mr. GIBSON: I felt for the guys because when you've had things happen yourself it's tough. Because you're the one they're looking at. Even though you might not be in total control of the situation, there's a lot to goes in ice making: the water you use, the building conditions, the outside conditions, it's just and here's a fine line because what you are basing everything on is the surface temperature of the ice.

BLOCK: Have you had this happen to you, ripples on the ice like what we saw last night?

Mr. GIBSON: Yes.

BLOCK: Yes.

Mr. GIBSON: Yes. Sometimes worse than others but yes I've had it happen.

BLOCK: And what would you do to fix that? Do you have to scrape it off and then resurface the whole thing?

Mr. GIBSON: There's a couple of quick fixes but in the Olympics they want everybody under the same conditions. So, whatever you did for those first skaters you have to continue. So, with the Olympic committee and dealing with them, it's kind of a different situation. They can't do the same little fixes we might do.

BLOCK: Mm-hmm.

Mr. GIBSON: You have to give everybody the same the exact same temperature

BLOCK: The same ice, right?

Mr. GIBSON: the same - right, you're trying to give them the exact same thing that the skaters before them had. So, some quick fixes would not be acceptable in the Olympics.

BLOCK: Yeah. And you could tell the coaches were upset. They were skating around and saying this is unacceptable. We're not going to (unintelligible).

Mr. GIBSON: There's no way they could've skated on the ice. It's almost like spider webbing all over the ice when it crawls, and it's rough. It's hard to skate on.

BLOCK: Jamie Gibson is the ice guy at the Verizon Center here in Washington, D.C. He is the assistant director of operations. Jamie, thanks for coming in.

Mr. GIBSON: Thank you very much.

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