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Friday, February 19, 2010

Zamboni Laments Brand Confusion Over Olympic Ice Machines


It wasn’t a Zamboni. That’s the message from Frank J. Zamboni & Co. after reports from the Winter Olympics suggested the ice-cleaning machines that leaked and forced delays in speedskating events were made by the U.S. manufacturer.

“It was widely reported that these machines were Zamboni machines, which in fact they were not,” Zamboni said in a statement yesterday, adding it’s “deeply concerned” about the situation.

An Olympia ice-cleaning machine made by Zamboni’s rival, Resurfice Corp. of Canada, leaked water in the middle of at least two events during the Games, leading to an hour delay at the men’s 500-meter speedskating event on Feb. 15 at the Richmond Oval.

Reports by media including the New York Times said the delays were caused by a broken “Zamboni.” The ice- cleaner is synonymous with the machine that sweeps hockey rinks around the world, much as Kleenex is used to describe tissues.

Charles Schulz, the creator of “Peanuts” and an avid hockey fan, was so enamored with the Zamboni that he made it a recurring element in his comic strip, with Snoopy behind the wheel.

The two machines used to clean the speedskating oval in Vancouver are Olympia brands, made by Elmira, Ontario- based Resurfice. Though Zamboni machines were used to clean the ice at the Winter Games in 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2006, Resurfice won the contract for the Vancouver Games. The firm supplied 17 battery-powered machines at the Vancouver Olympic rinks used for hockey, speedskating and figure skating.

Problem Solved

The breakdowns were the result of an “electrical malfunction,” according to a statement from Resurfice.

“This was a maintenance issue, not a design issue,” said Don Schlupp, director of sales and marketing at the family owned company. “Contrary to what some reports have suggested, these machines are not prototypes. They have been in service at the Oval for almost two years, and this problem has never occurred before.”

“The problem was minor and we’ve got it fixed,” Schlupp said.

The breakdowns have given Zamboni a chance to take part in the Games after all. The Vancouver Olympic Committee shipped a Zamboni machine from Calgary, about 680 kilometers (422 miles) to the east across the Rocky Mountains.

Last night, the white Zamboni machine shared ice- cleaning duties during the men’s 1,000-meter speedskating event with an Olympia machine, which was painted in the green, white and blue colors of the Vancouver Games.

Higher Power

John Furlong, chief executive officer of the Vancouver Olympic committee, said organizers didn’t consider sponsorships as they tried to solve the ice-cleaning problem.

“I don’t have any opinion on any of the marketing questions,” he told reporters in Vancouver. “The higher power here is that the venue must be perfect -- we have to have certainty. We now think we have it.”

Paula Coony, general manager of Zamboni’s merchandising arm, declined to comment after issuing the statement signed by Richard Zamboni, whose father, Jack, founded the company about six decades ago in Paramount, California.

While men’s 1,000-meter silver medalist Tae-Bum Mo said the ice was “soft,” the condition of the ice wasn’t a distraction to gold-medal winner Shani Davis of the U.S.

“As an Olympian and a top-level skater, you have to be prepared to be able to handle any sort of situation,” Davis said. “I’ve learned not to pay attention to things that are negative.”