The Man Behind the Pettit Ice

by US Speedskating

In the world of competitive speed skating, the pursuit of perfection extends beyond the athletes themselves. Paul Golomski, the mastermind behind the ice conditions at the recent Long Track US Championships held from October 27-29 at the Pettit National Ice Center, played a crucial role in creating an environment that allowed skaters to achieve peak performance.

Rick Wood/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Paul Golomski checks a console that shows specific ice conditions on the oval as skaters practice at the Pettit National Ice Center in December 2017.

Golomski, General Manager of the Pettit Center, managed various factors to ensure an optimal setting for the athletes. One of his key strategies involved maintaining low ice temperatures throughout the competition, with a target of at or below 17°F, to reduce ice friction, allowing for an ideal glide, and minimize penetration into the ice.

To further enhance the skating conditions, Golomski worked to control carbon dioxide (CO2) levels within the arena. Recognizing that high CO2 levels could impact the athletes' performance by displacing oxygen, outdoor air, dehumidified for optimal conditions, was continuously recirculated into the venue.

Golomski also addressed the importance of air temperature in relation to speed skating. By maintaining a warm environment close to 60-61°F, he aimed to reduce air density, facilitating faster times for the skaters. Additionally, efforts were made to keep relative humidity low to prevent the accumulation of frost on the ice, which could increase friction with the blades.

Wind speed, a critical factor in replicating conditions from previous Olympic Games venues, was carefully controlled at less than 2 mph. This allowed for proper air circulation within the venue, while minimizing the wind assistance that the athletes receive.

There’s not been anything even close to working at the Olympics,” Golomski said about working on the 2018 Olympic ice. “I’ve done a bunch of world-level events at the Pettit Center in the past, and that’s been great. But there’s not a greater honor than this for me.

Mark Hoffman/USA TODAY Sports
Milwaukee resident Paul Golomski checks the ice as he resurfaces the track before the women's speed skating 500-meter event at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.

The complexity of Golomski's task becomes even more apparent when considering the intricacies of ice making. The water used is purified and blended for specific purity and heated to 160°F to remove dissolved gases and improve the repair of skate grooves during resurfacing.

In the delicate balance between refrigeration and heating systems, Golomski's expertise shone. Despite working seemingly against each other, these systems operated at 100% capacity. Refrigeration systems focused on removing heat from the ice, while heating and air handling systems added heat to the arena and ice.

This counterintuitive approach, as Golomski explained, contributes to achieving very fast times in speed skating. The wider the spread between ice and air temperatures, the more favorable the results.

Golomski's dedication to perfection doesn’t go unnoticed. USS athletes rely on experts like Golomski to reach their peak performance. At the US Championships, athletes skated extremely well, including Jordan Stolz setting a Track Record and Lowland World Record in the 1500m.

US Speedskating
Jordan Stolz racing at the 2023 US Championships at the Pettit National Ice Center in Milwaukee.

Reflecting on the championships, Golomski said, "Overall, I was pleased with how things were executed, and it was a good, fair competition. There is a lot to be excited about given how the team just performed at World Cup 1. I’m looking forward to seeing what else this great group of athletes can achieve."

As the speed skating world looks ahead to Milan 2026, Paul Golomski's efforts stand as a testament to the precision required to create the ideal conditions for athletes to push their limits and achieve greatness on the ice.