In preparation for the upcoming Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, WBBM’s Rick Gregg spoke with experts in each of four sports in a series of interviews for WBBMNewsradio.com. Today: Ryan Murphy, the Ice Manager and Head Ice Technician at the Chicago Curling Club.
CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) — If you’re near a printer, grab two sheets of paper. Lay them on top of each other. Observe.
“A curling sheet is somewhere between 14.5- and 15.5-feet wide, by 150 feet,” said Ryan Murphy, with the Chicago Curling Club. “And we’re looking to try and get level across that to the tune of about two pieces of printer paper. We’re trying to get about as dead flat as you can get.”
As Murphy puts it, the similarity between curling ice and other types of ice is that both “exist on the same planet – and that’s it.”
For example, hockey rinks are maintained by Zambonis – the big rolling machines that scrape, sweep and resurface the ice. They are fast – good for a 17,000 square foot surface – but it’s not precise. And for a curling sheet, which is one-seventh that size, precision is everything.
“We have what’s called a Scraper. Basically, it’s a machine that you walk behind that’s got a five-foot precision ground razor blade on the front of it. We’ll go out there and scrape with that multiple times a day during a tournament. If you’re talking about the Olympics or the national-caliber events, they’re scraping for every single game to maintain that level,” he said.
Even the slightest lean can drastically change the game.
“If it’s not level enough, and you have it kind of sliding away, it’ll actually straighten out the rock,” Murphy said. “If it’s really bad, it’ll actually cause the rock to fall off and not go the direction that you want it to. The rocks react very much to how level the ice is.”
Once that’s done, curling ice techs will spray very tiny water droplets on top of the ice – about 2,500,000, according to Murphy. It’s a technique called “pebbling”, and those “pebbles” reduce friction. Otherwise, the rocks wouldn’t go anywhere, no matter how hard they were pushed. And for Murphy…the sport is hard enough.
“They really are really impressive athletes at that level,” he said. “The sliding motion is kind of an unconventional motion, so you’ve got to have a lot of flexibility. And there’s also a lot of control that needs to happen there. There’s not that much difference in how you’re pushing out between a rock being short of where you want it to be and too far from where you want it to be. And then the sweeping is huge. I think that’s where a lot of people look at curling and go, ‘well that’s kind of a weird sport. What are these people doing?’ That’s a huge core and shoulder workout. And for a competition, at the Olympic level, they’re doing that for…two hours, two-and-a-half hours, depending on how long the game lasts.”
If Olympic coverage of the sport sometimes called “Chess on Ice” makes you want to give it a try, the Chicago Curling Club offers two-and-a-half hour “Learn to Curl” classes. More information is on the club’s website.