Four Olympics and counting – Metro US

Four Olympics and counting

Architecture critics marvel at the look of the new Richmond Olympic Oval. But the speedskaters who whip around the corners and look up at the clock to check their time only care about one thing: The ice.

And that’s the responsibility of Mark Messer. He’s the chief plant manager and ice and facility specialist for the Olympic Oval in Calgary, and is helping out at the new B.C. venue too.

The 48-year-old helped design some of the technical aspects of the new facility and will monitor the ice during next year’s Olympics. It’ll be his fourth Olympics — he spent 40 days straight in Turin in 2006.

Originally from Saskatchewan, Messer grew up in Calgary a mechanically minded kid. He did an apprenticeship as a heavy-duty mechanic but was laid off from his job in 1982 when the construction market dried up.

He was hired by the Saddledome when it opened in 1983 and learned on the job how to make ice for the Calgary Flames. He went to the Olympic Oval when it opened in 1987 and learned about speedskating.

Over the years, he took courses on refrigeration and ice-making equipment. Five years ago, he got promoted into his current position.

“To be good at this job, you have to have an open mind, be creative and open to new things,” says Messer. He’s questioned some traditional ice-making techniques and his experiments have led to numerous new ways to make fast, clean, smooth ice for both speedskaters and hockey players (his facility has a long-track oval and two international size rinks for hockey and short track skating).

He’s learned, for instance, that highly purified water works best for long track skating, while water with minerals and impurities left in it leads to better short track skating.

These days, his job entails monitoring the ice by looking at computer reports from under-the-ice sensors, by checking it personally and talking to skaters and coaches. He adjusts the humidity in the building and works with his ice maintenance staff to achieve a smooth, fast surface.

He drives a Zamboni himself at least a few times a week, more lately in Richmond as he’s been training staff there.

While he’s an expert on ovals and loves being around speedskaters who strive to be the best, he’s not a racer himself. He’s more of a hockey guy and plays once a week.

Diane Peters once hawked magic pens at the Canadian National Exhibition. She’s now a writer and part-time journalism instructor.