Olympic opportunity for Chilliwack ice-guy

Scott Taylor (left) and Jeff Sampson (right) are going to be busy guys the next couple weeks as they bring their ice-making and Zamboni-driving skills to the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Scott Taylor is an Olympic fan.

Every four years, the long-time Twin Rinks ice-guy joins millions of people around the world watching elite athletes do their thing on the biggest stage imaginable.

He shares vicariously in their successes and failures.

He vividly remembers 1998, when Wayne Gretzky was left out of the shootout and Team Canada lost a heartbreaker to the Czech Republic.

He remembers huddling around a small television at Twin Rinks in 2002 when Canada’s hockey team won gold in Salt Lake City.

“We were all crammed in the front lobby watching a little black and white screen, with rabbit ears going all over the place,” he laughed. “There was a woman walking out of the lobby and into rink two that day with a head-set on. Suddenly, she just screamed as loud as she could, and that’s when Joe Sakic scored the winning goal against the United States.”

Up until now, Taylor has seen these things from a distance, translated through the lense of a television camera.

But starting Friday, he’ll see it all up close and personal as a member of the Pacific Coliseum ice crew. As far as TV technology has come, there’s still nothing like seeing it live.

He can’t wait.

“It’s the closest thing to being an Olympian that I will ever get,” Taylor said with a grin. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and my pass should allow me to hang around a lot and see quite a bit.”

Taylor’s Olympic opportunity came through a contact made three years ago. Then 23 years old, he interviewed for, and was offfered a job at the Calgary Olympic Oval.

The interviewer was Mick Kiddle.

The Chilliwack native ended up turning down the gig, but he kept in touch with the veteran ice-man.

When Kiddle rolled through town a year-and-a-half ago, supervising the ice at the 2008 Canadian Short Track Speed Skating Championships, he gave Taylor a call.

“He asked if I wanted to come out and work with them for a day, at the Pacific Coliseum” Taylor explained. “A week-and-a-half later, they offered me a part-time job, and through that I ended up working at the 2009 Four Continents Figure Skating Championship. I did good at that, and they told me I would be on the crew for the Olympics. Just like that.”

Sampson’s job will be a challenging one.

His main responsibility will be weekend work, helping to get the Pacific Coliseum ice ready for the figure skating competition. But the building is also housing speed-skating.

“That’s a big challenge because it’s different types of ice for both events,” Taylor noted. “With figure skating, you want it a little thicker so when they’re doing their jumps, they’re not landing on pavement. So I’ll be working some overnight shifts where I’ll have to build the ice up from speed skating thinness to figure-skating thickness.”

Taylor started prepping the ice in late January, two-and-a-half weeks before the opening ceremonies. The primary inhabitants of the Coliseum, the Western Hockey League’s Vancouver Giants, have been booted out for the duration of the Olympics.

“The hands-on duties in my job involve flooding the ice, sealing the ice and painting the ice,” Taylor said. “It’s quite a bit of work. There are a lot variables that go into ice making — everything from surface temps to humidty in the building. It’s not just one thing you have to worry about. It’s making several factors work to create a good sheet of ice.”

With stakes as high as they are at the Olympics, there’s no room for error. Athletes who hurl themselves into the air whilst performing triple-axel jumps must have faith that the ice will be there for them when they land.

Taylor takes pride in his work no matter what the stakes.

But there’s another element at work too, the element of patriotism.

The last time the Olympics were held on Canadian soil, home-grown figure skaters Elizabeth Manley and Brian Orser won silver medals. But while Canada has hosted Olympic Games twice previously — 1976 in Montreal and 1988 in Calgary — Canadian athletes have never won gold at home.

Taylor is intrigued by the idea that a Canadian might break through on ice that he helped to create.

“It would be nice to see that, and I would certainly take pride in it,” he said.

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