On the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, the four x 10 kilometer relay was presupposed to be a battle of cross-country ski titans Norway and Sweden. Felix Breitschädel watched from the sidelines as the race unfolded below a heat Russian solar. However when the primary skiers emerged from the woods onto the sector filled with spectators, Norway’s first skier was nowhere to be seen. He dropped to ninth place, whereas the remainder of the crew rallied to complete fourth. For medal-hungry Norwegian ski racing followers again dwelling, “it was a catastrophe,” remembers Breitschädel, tools and technical director for the Norwegian Olympic Committee. “We had been known as traitors within the Norwegian media.”
The wrongdoer? Hydrocarbons gone amok.
Technicians like Brietschädel had utilized the incorrect mixture of chemical waxes to the bottom of the athlete’s ski. These hydrocarbon and fluorocarbon compounds—which take the type of waxes, fluids, and powders—should accomplish two contradictory duties for skiers to win gold: grip the snow on the uphill whereas additionally gliding on the downhill.
The compounds adhere to the bottom of the ski, which is manufactured from extremely excessive density polyurethane, however dissipate over time. For a two-minute downhill ski race, rivals need the slipperiest floor doable. For 2 hour-long cross-country marathon, it takes six or extra layers of wax to maintain the racer shifting up and down over the course.
At Sochi, Brietschädel and different Norweigan ski technicians examined dozens of combos of skis and waxes alongside the athletes within the hours main as much as the race. However simply earlier than the occasion started, race organizers determined to unfold a layer of salt on the course. Salting a course is a standard option to protect a course by lowering the snow’s floor temperature by as much as four levels Celsius (7 levels Fahrenheit). That occurs due to an endothermic response that pulls warmth from the snow to the salt. Nitrogen-based fertilizers like ammonium nitrate or ammonium sulfate are additionally used to harden snow on race programs.
“We examined in a single situation and the organizers determined to place out salt on the ski monitor,” Brietschädel mentioned. “The entire package deal didn’t work in addition to we hoped for.”
An excellent wax job gained’t win an Olympic race, however it is going to hold issues shut, in response to specialists.
Comparable waxing issues additionally plagued Kikkan Randall, a US cross-country skier who competed at Sochi and will probably be attending her fifth Olympics at Pyeongchang, South Korea.
In Sochi, Randall didn’t qualify for the ladies’s dash occasion by 5 one-hundredths of a second. She believes her skis didn’t glide sufficient to flee the opposite racers on the ultimate descent to the end line. “I made a break they usually all got here again on a downhill,” Randall says about her qualifying warmth in Sochi. “Even one in every of my teammates got here crusing by.” Perhaps she additionally lacked a ultimate dash, Randall admits. However good wax would have given her an edge within the two and a half-minute race.
In South Korea, will probably be Andrew Morehouse’s job to ensure Randall and the opposite People don’t have a repeat of the problematic wax circumstances in Sochi. “We don’t need a match athlete that may’t compete as a result of the skis are dangerous,” Morehouse mentioned from a pre-Olympic coaching camp in Austria. “We now have gained some races when our wax is healthier.”
Ski waxing is a mix of artwork and science. Morehouse will probably be lugging not solely his laptop computer and a number of other suitcases of wax to South Korea’s Olympic snowboarding venue, but additionally units to measure the moisture content material and temperature of the snow and air, in addition to local weather circumstances and windspeed. The technicians additionally have to know the place of the solar on every part of the race course, which frequently runs via shady forests and sunny open areas.
For longer races, Morehouse begins with a typical paraffin base wax that’s melted after which brushed into the pores of the ski base. Then comes layers of fluorocarbon powder and liquid waxes that always include nasty solvent-based components reminiscent of benzene, toluene, and xylene. To guard himself, Morehouse wears a respirator, and the US Ski Staff just lately bought semi-truck with air flow hoods to create a safer work space. This transfer got here after scientists in Sweden and Norway discovered wax technicians who put together a whole bunch of skis at championship occasions had been examined with excessive ranges of dangerous fluorinated compounds in their blood. (The European Union additionally thought of banning sure forms of ski waxes due to the fluorine compounds produce a climate-warming greenhouse fuel, although that transfer has been postponed for now.)
The composition of these mixes are rigorously guarded secrets and techniques; massive European ski groups rigorously guard their wax choice and use code names on two-way race radios. The varied chemical compounds within the wax mix to carry out at totally different temperatures, Morehouse explains:
“In chilly circumstances, you need waxes which can be laborious and sturdy so the snow crystals can’t dig into the ski base as a lot,” he says. “As you get hotter, you need waxes that repel water and shed filth. The extra fluorocarbons, the extra hydrophobic they’re. In moist circumstances, you need waxes which have a number of fluorocarbons in them.” Longer races are tougher as a result of the wax has to final, and since climate circumstances can change through the occasion.
Throughout classical type cross-country ski races, a sticky layer of kick wax is utilized below the mid-section in order that the skier can grip the snow when climbing hills. Smoother glide wax goes on the ideas and tails. The stiffness and camber of every particular person ski additionally determines how they’ll seize and glide on the snow floor.
On race day, Morehouse melts, scrapes, and polishes a layer of wax earlier than making use of the subsequent layer. Then he’ll be a part of the coach and skier on the racetrack and see which of them work finest. The wax layers kind a protecting coating, whereas channeling water down and away from the ski in tiny grooves alongside the construction of the ski base. “Our job is all about lowering friction,” Morehouse says.
On the Pyeongchang Olympics, Morehouse will hold monitor of all this knowledge in his pocket book (the Norwegians use a mobile-based wax app) in order that he can get a tough thought of the place to begin—after which, it’s going to be as much as the racers.