Profile: Canadian ice master passes technique torch in China

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by Xinhua writers Huang Xinxin, Zhang Xiao and Xia Zilin

BEIJING, April 9 (Xinhua) — It is unacceptable for Mark Peter Messer to see the ice surface strewn with dirt so that he wipes his soles even with his pants every time he steps on the rink.

The gleaming sheet of ice in China’s National Speed Skating Oval (NSSO), dubbed the “Ice Ribbon,” was made after Messer and his team sprayed water with hoses one lap after another.

The Canadian ice technician first came to an Olympic Oval and started his career in May 1987. He will attend his sixth Olympics at the Beijing 2022 Winter Games. His ice-making experience of nearly 40 years helped him gain a worldwide reputation as an “ice master.”

Though having helped make ice in about 20 ovals around the world, the Ice Ribbon still poses challenges to Messer since transcritical carbon dioxide ice-making technology first appeared in Beijing Olympic venues.

Apart from four Chinese ice makers in the venue, Messer also has young partners, or his apprentices. Twenty-two college students from Beijing Polytechnic are learning to make ice from him. They are learning this skill during their internship in the “Experience Beijing” Ice Sports Testing Program slated for early April.

“It’s good for me because I also went to a polytechnic. I like to see more people interested in the work we do, and the work of the interns is very refreshing for us,” said Messer.

In September 2019, the NSSO, the National Aquatics Center and the Beijing Polytechnic jointly launched a project to cultivate professionals in ice making and maintenance for the Winter Olympics. The project also aims to build a talent pool for the post-Olympic era.

Students here learn basic knowledge about ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration technology, among others. They also get internship opportunities at Olympic venues.

“There is a scarcity of ice-making talents in China, so in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics, we hope to promote vocational education in the field. It also shows the Chinese young generation’s passion for the Winter Olympics,” said Wu Xiaonan, chairman of the NSSO.

In the venue, students learn how to operate the ice resurfacer and use the equipment, water the rink to make ice layers, and assist with ice maintenance during the test event.

In the ice-making process, water used to make ice is blended with purified water and natural water. It must be made in the proportions and temperature from Messer’s personal experience. He also drew the lane lines of the venue manually.

Lu Yuanzhe, a sophomore student, witnessed Messer’s superb craftsmanship in the Oval. “Ice making is like playing table tennis. It takes tens of thousands of swings to make a perfect movement. Only repeated exercises will generate enough muscle memory for making ice.”

According to Messer, a good ice maker must be hard-working and possess knowledge of chemistry and physics. “One must be curious and be able to make changes and try different things.”

“The ice maker is also like the speed skater. Only those with excellent performances will not go out,” Lu said during his internship.

Chen Xiaorong, deputy dean of the College of Automation Engineering, Beijing Polytechnic, said that some students even took two and a half hours by subway to the venue on weekends to learn ice making, even though they didn’t have to.

When talking about the training mode under school-enterprise cooperation, Messer said it’s easy learning technical things in school. One, however, has to get into the field to see it and put the actual practical part and the technical part together.

“I enjoy my work because there are always challenges and something to learn. In my many years of making ice, coming to China and other places to see different scenarios does me good. My mind is always asking questions, and it’s good for learning and keeping young,” Messer said.

Though his unique ice-making skill set is acquired through 40 years of work, Messer loves to share it with the young Chinese ice makers.

“Sometimes the meaning of the Olympics starts to drift, but we have to bring this back. It’s supposed to get everybody together — different nations and different skills. That’s the idea of the Olympics.”

Speaking highly of the students’ performances, the venue director Wu believes they can become a new generation of Chinese ice masters — “like the blazing Olympic torch, passing on the spirit from generation to generation.”

Zhang Qiang, another student in the project, expressed his expectations for the future. “I hope one day I can get to a professional ice-technician level like Messer, making perfect, shiny ice.” Enditem

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