SOCHI, Russia — The slightest shift in temperature — a few degrees either way — can make all the difference.
If the ice at his arena becomes too cold or brittle, Sergey Pliner will hear grumbles from figure skaters who want a soft landing for their triple axels.
So the refrigeration engineer from Moscow has learned a trick. He adds a fine layer of warm water, quickly freezing it to a not-so-rigid consistency.
"There are many peculiarities," Pliner said. "Technical things we can do."
Anyone who thinks that ice is just ice has never been to the Winter Olympics.
The organizers of the 2014 Sochi Games have enlisted a select group of technicians from around the world, men who understand the idiosyncrasies of each sport.
They know that speedskaters like a hard, fast track, and hockey players need a smooth surface to keep the puck from skipping. They use only purified water — without calcium or magnesium — to ensure consistent throws at the curling center.
Working long hours behind the scenes, fussing over subtle variations in texture and humidity, these ice makers set the stage for gold-medal performances.
"Oh, there's lots of pressure," said Hans Wuthrich, an ice specialist for curling from Canada. "People have no idea what we go through."
All of the skating and curling competitions in Sochi are taking place at arenas beside the Black Sea. The subtropical climate — relatively warm and humid for winter — has a way of sneaking inside.
Last fall, the Canadian women's hockey team played here and struggled with a soft rink.
"Really soft," defenseman Jocelyne Larocque said. "Everyone had to get their skates less sharp because it felt like we were digging into the ice."
The crews at Bolshoy Ice Dome and Shayba Arena — the venues for men's and women's hockey — have adjusted since then.
They have experimented with surface temperature and air conditioning. They have fiddled with the settings on the Zamboni-like resurfacers that scrape and refinish the top layer of ice between periods.
Dimitry Ulanov usually minds the ice at a major arena in Moscow that hosts international hockey tournaments and ice skating shows. In Sochi, he must nurse the rinks day by day. After the second period of each game, when conditions often deteriorate, he digs the blades of his resurfacer a little deeper to get at the cold stuff underneath.
"I know how to do this," he said. "I am a professional."
After a morning practice this week, the Canadian players talked about sweating in the humid air but said the ice stayed playable.
"It's better than last time," Larocque said. "The biggest thing is just making sure your passes are really hard, putting an extra oomph on the passes."
The situation is even trickier at the Iceberg Skating Palace, which figure skaters share with short-track speedskaters. With some of their sessions only a few hours apart, Pliner must accommodate two very different preferences.