World Cup event serves as testing ground for China's ice-makers
The 'roaring game' brought a cool new look to Shougang Industrial Park in western Beijing with Wednesday's launch of the final leg of the World Curling Federation's inaugural World Cup series at Shougang Ice Rink.
The series opened in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, last September, followed by stops in Omaha, Nebraska, in December and Jonkoping, Sweden, in January.
The Cup competition is the result of a four-year, $13.4 million partnership between the WCF and Chinese company Kingdomway, aimed at boosting curling's appeal to the public and media in new markets like China.
Based on results at the Cup's first three legs and the world championships, 150 athletes representing 10 countries and regions, including 10 from China, have qualified for a total prize pool of $2150,000 in men's, women's and mixed doubles competitions.
Amid frenzied shouts of "Sweep! Sweep!" and "Hurry hard!" during the opening round of play, Liu Boqiang, one of 16 Chinese ice technicians at Shougang, stayed quietly focused, intently following every stone sent skittering down the sheet.
The Cup final is both a drill for China's curlers in the buildup to the 2022 Winter Olympics and a learning curve for homegrown ice makers like Liu to hone their craft for the Games and beyond.
"Making ice is actually much more complicated than what it seems like," said Liu, who worked as a welder at the Shougang steel plant for 15 years until it closed in 2010 to cut pollution in the urban area.
He started to learn ice-making in 2017 and now helps maintain the frozen surface at the Shougang training center as part of its rejuvenation leading up to the Olympics.
"We've done ice for the national championships, but the World Cup has enlightened us with more details and extremely high standards," he said.
Leading the crew at the World Cup is chief ice technician Hans Wuthrich of Canada, where curling is enormously popular.
The playing surfaces are built on base layers of ice made by the Chinese technicians, upon which Wuthrich and his Scottish assistant Mark Callan smooth the surface with scrapers and then spray on small water droplets.
After the droplets freeze, the resulting 'pebbles' are scraped again to a uniform height in order to make the friction as consistent as possible.
"The difficulty is spraying the water as evenly as possible. Actually, the trick is about the frequency of its application," Liu said of the procedure.
Wuthrich, an ice-making guru who prepared the sheets at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, has been impressed by the efforts of his Chinese apprentices.
"Everything helps," he said. "Some of the people we have here are very experienced already, so it's nice to have them when you come to an event like this.
"We will be having a lot of events in China, so everybody will get more used to everything as we move along."
Zhang Yijun, curling event manager of Beijing Shougang Park Sports Center Operations Management, underlined the importance of local involvement in preparing for the 2022 Olympics.
"This event provides a stepping stone for our local staff to learn the fine craft of making curling ice so they will be ready for the 2022 Winter Olympics," he said.
"Even though we've developed in this sport for quite a while, we've had all ice sheets at our major events prepared by experienced foreign technicians. Our goal is to train Chinese technicians in order to be able to participate in every aspect of the sport."
The World Cup series features matches played in eight ends, rather than the traditional 10, and if there is a tie after the eight ends, a one-stone shootout decides the winner.
The eight-team draw for each discipline was split into two pools of four playing a double round robin.
The top team in each group advances to the finals.