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Ice technicians make final preparations for National Curling Championships at EWU

We're taking you behind the scenes of the National Curling Championships, as some of the best ice-makers in the world make their final preparations.

CHENEY, Wash. — A quick trip down "Zamboni Lane" at Eastern Washington University, and you'll very quickly find yourself inside of the campus Recreation Center.

Starting on February 8, that's where you'll find the 2020 National Curling Championships.

What you will not find, though, is an actual zamboni.

It's one of the common misconceptions about the sport of curling: ice-makers don't use zambonis to craft the perfect curling ice.

It takes much more than that.

Just ask Shawn Olesen, the Head U.S. Curling Ice technician, who said he's been scouting the site and working with the university for months -- maybe even years -- to make sure the ice quality could be top-notch.

"Any inconsistency can ruin a shot, so its got to be perfect all the way across the sheet," said Olesen, looking out across the ice before adding his next layer of water.

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Olesen has been playing the game of curling for 15 years, and prepping ice for 12 years; he was the lone American representative in Pyeongchang, the site of USA's first-ever gold medal win in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

"When I'm showing somebody the sport, I tell them 'I can teach you in ten minutes, and it'll take you your life to get good at it,'" Olesen said, while laughing. "The ice is the same way, you're doing unnatural things with water and air, and it's just fighting nature at every step."

If you're curious about just how difficult the sport itself can be, just ask Up With KREM's own Danamarie McNicholl and Nichole Hernandez, who tried curling for the first time in preparation for the upcoming tournament.

But the difference in the ice quality has changed dramatically at EWU in just a matter of days.

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As his team starts setting up rubber barriers along the "ice sheets," Olesen explains that ice is created differently for curling than it is for ice skating or hockey; ice skaters, he points out, need their skates to grip the ice in order for them to be able to move properly. It has to be softer, he said.

That's not the case when it comes to curling ice, which is much more level, precise and harder. 

"Ours would be too cold and brittle to skate on," Olesen explained.

But there will be a time when the ice sheets are ready for play, Olesen said.

When? Well, it's not a scientific answer.

It's something Olesen has learned over his 15 years of experience, through practice, experience, dedication, and perhaps most importantly, his love of the game.

"It'll get to a spot where you kind of look and you nudge the guy next to you and you say, 'See? There it is. It's ready.' You can't really explain it, but there's a look that we see," he said.

Have a question about curling? Send a message to KREM's Joshua Robinson on his Facebook or Twitter accounts.

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