Bees make it, ears make it, chandlers use it(that’s candle makers to you and me not the guy from Friends!),but most importantly it goes on skis! What is it? That’s right, WAX! The true hero of biathlon! If it wasn’t for the wax and the wax technicians biathlon would be a sport about people going really slow and falling over. The real stars of biathlon are the wax techs! Without them where would we be? Still on the start line that’s where! It’s time they had their moment in the spotlight and here it is!
Famous wax technicians include of course…er…um…er…Madame Tussaud and the Karate Kid’s Mr.Miyagi(wax on,wax off)!!! OK so neither of them deal in skis but there are a few in biathlon you might have heard of. The Norwegians have Morten Svendsen who is Emil’s big brother and taught him everything he knows(about wax anyway!), Muck Bauer a German who now works exclusively for the US team, Rich Pettit from Team Canada and Federico Fontana from Italy.
The art of waxing skis is a difficult one as we saw in Sochi at the Olympics. The Norwegian team in particular had some difficulties getting the skis to run fast. One Norwegian who had no trouble however was Darya Domracheva’s ski technician Ivar Michal Ulekleiv who used a 20 year old magic elixir to make her skis glide beautifully in the changing snow conditions and helped her to win 3 gold medals.
So how do they do it? Well some teams are luckier than others and can afford a huge wax truck full of high tech equipment. Others have an orange shipping container (see Team USA in Sochi) where they keep their equipment, some teams have a wax hut and others have absolutely nothing and have to rely on the help of the other teams.
Waxing is a pretty complicated business and you really have to know what you are doing. Unfortunately it not just a case of buying some wax and putting on the bottom of your skis! In biathlon they use the skating technique nowadays rather than classic so we don’t really need to get into the sticky world of klister, we can stick to hard and soft wax. The whole point of waxing is to optimize the thickness of the thin film of water between the ski and the snow. Friction obviously is essential and there is a combination of wet and dry friction that you must balance. Too much water gives you wet drag or suction and too little water creates dry drag or too much friction. It is a delicate balance and that’s where the wax comes in. There are different types of wax to help manage this made from different components. Hard or cold wax is used in cold conditions and soft or warm wax is used it warm conditions. These are well named don’t you think so no wax accident can occur!Cold wax on a warm day is not a good idea and vice versa!
Waxing also needs some specific equipment. Firstly you need to secure the ski in a vice and clean it with a brush before you apply the wax. There are different varieties of brush with for example steel or copper bristles depending on how dirty the ski is. Then you apply the wax and use a waxing iron to help it penetrate the ski better. You should clean and wax the ski from tip to tail unless you want to go backwards really quickly!!! ;-). Scrapers are then used to scrape off any excess wax. They also use grinders to prepare the underside of the ski before applying wax if necessary.
It’s a lot of work being a wax technician. They start very early because they have to prepare the skis and test them and also collect data about the snow and analyse it all. Then when the athletes choose their skis for the race they have to prepare them, but not until just before the race in case of any potential change in conditions. Their work is not over when the race starts either. They support the athletes on track by giving them time gaps, showing them where their shots have fallen, providing drinks and of course shouting encouragement. It doesn’t end there however as afterwards they have to collect and clean the skis before preparing for the next day.
It’s a tough job but there is still hope for all the wax techs out there who are frustrated athletes! There is the inspirational story of America’s Alex Deibold from another Winter sport. He was the wax tech for the snowboard team in the Vancouver Olympics and then went on to win a bronze medal in Sochi in the Snowboard cross.
So as you can see the waxing of the skis plays a huge part in how the biathletes perform and the wax technicians are an essential part of any success or indeed failure. These brave soles who spent most of their time in a hot truck that smells of fumes or out testing on the track deserve a lot of credit. They should have a lot more people than just me WAXing Lyrical about them! Keep up the good work guys – even though you are hidden away in a truck you are not forgotten!!!
*to wax lyrical: to speak about something in an enthusiastic,interested and excited way.
Disclaimer: I am not a wax expert(or waxpert if you like!) so if I got anything wrong it’s the Internet’s fault and not mine!!!
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