Ice technician vows to provide best stage for skaters at PyeongChang Olympics

GANGNEUNG, South Korea-- Whether it's summer or winter, all Cory Portner cares about is ice.

Portner, 38, is the head ice technician for the short track and figure skating events at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. He works at Gangneung Ice Arena in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, some 230 kilometers east of Seoul.

The Olympic venue is currently hosting the International Skating Union (ISU) Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, open to non-European skaters, as one of the test events for the upcoming Winter Games.

"My only job here is to make sure that the ice conditions are the same for all athletes," he told Yonhap News Agency on Friday. "But that's the hardest thing because we start the day off with different temperatures outside and different people in the facilities."

Portner, who has worked for 18 years in the ice maintenance industry, said Gangneung Ice Arena is a "first class" facility compared to other places around the world, including National Hockey League buildings.

"It's going to be a nice facility for the country to show off," he said. "I feel really good about how it's going to perform for the Olympic Games."

At the PyeongChang Olympics, Gangneung Ice Arena will be home to both short track speed skating and figure skating events, and the ice conditions for the two events must be different. For him and his crew, changing the ice surface is one of the difficult tasks.

"Short track is thinner ice and colder, while figure skating is a warmer surface and it's a little thicker," he said. "The transition requires a lot of overnight work for our staff."

At the Four Continents, Porter is working with a crew of six people, including South Korean assistant ice technician Bae Ki-tae. He said there's no problem working with local experts.

"For me, it's a learning experience, and I'm sure it's a learning experience for them as well," he said. "We have gone through numerous discussions and communication styles. I think we've gotten to the point where everybody understands one another now."

Although Porter is busy working to provide the best ice quality for the athletes, it's not easy to avoid complaints from athletes or coaches.

"It's always tough to hear that, but with the good comes the bad, you have to learn from that," he said. "If we don't hear anything, that's good. No news is good news for us."

Porter said maintaining good ice also requires help from external factors.

"Sometimes machines can fail and sometimes outside weather can be tough," he said. "We need mother nature and machines to all work together to make sure that we maintain the same playing conditions for everyone."

Porter said he and his crew are still finding areas that may need improvement. With the Olympics less than a year away, the American added he is listening to opinions from various parties, from the ISU to the local organizing committee.

"We'll probably have a followup meeting after this event," he said. "Not only are we going to look at the things that may need improvement, we're also going to look at the things that worked well and make sure that we can repeat that (at the Olympics)."

Before the Four Continents, Porter already managed ice quality at Gangneung Ice Arena last December for the ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating, which also doubled as a test event for the PyeongChang Games. Having experienced two major events at Gangneung Ice Arena, Porter said he is confident that both figure skating and short track speed skating will be successfully staged on the ice.

"After going through the short track event and figure skating event, I feel much better already." he said. "With two big events under our belt, and no major mishaps so far, that already says a lot about preparations from Gangwon Province, the organizing committee, and the staff overall."

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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