Smoothing A Path For Lugers

February 12, 1994|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,Sun Staff Writer

If the United States wins its first Olympic medal in the grueling luge competition next week, a York, Pa.-based refrigeration and air-conditioning company will be sharing the glory.

Since luge became an Olympic event in 1964, the Germans have dominated the sport where athletes hurtle down an icy, curved track on razor thin sleds reaching speeds of 80 mph. Until last fall, indoor luge training facilities existed only in Latvia and Germany.

In October 1992, however, York International Corp., a worldwide Fortune 200 industrial refrigeration company, built a $1.2 million ultramodern, indoor practice facility at Lake Placid for the U.S. Olympic Luge team. That put U.S. athletes on an equal footing with other competitors, U.S. Olympic officials said.

At the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, York has provided the refrigeration system for Hamar Olympic Amphitheater, which will play host to the 1994 figure skating competition and Hamar Olympia Halle, where speed-skating, curling and short track skating events will be held.

With corporate headquarters in York, just 60 miles northeast of Baltimore, York International is a $2 billion-a-year company with manufacturing plants in 100 countries and 14,000 employees. It was founded in 1874 and went public on the New York Stock Exchange in late 1991.

The Lillehammer project is worth $5.5 million to the company, far less than its recent contract for renovating the Pentagon's air-conditioning system, for instance.

But constructing an Olympic site brings a measure of prestige that outweighs monetary value. It is prestige that York has grown accustomed to in the fiercely competitive world of Olympic Games contracts.

During the past 30 years, York has provided refrigeration systems for both summer and winter Olympic games. It built the skating arenas at Squaw Valley, Calif., in 1960, cooled Munich's volleyball court, and assured that Lake Placid figure-skating rinks remained consistently cold.

More recently, it supplied the automated snowmaking and refrigeration systems for the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France, and air conditioning at the Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.

"We're the Michael Jordan of sports venue equipment providers," Michael Ricci, York's director of corporate Olympic and sports marketing, said this week from Norway where the Olympic games are to begin Monday. "Most turn to us because they can't afford to make mistakes with the close deadline," he said. The design and engineering work on the luge-bobsled track began more than two years ago at York's Basildon, England, office.

Most of the heavy equipment, like compressors and condensers, and high-tech computer apparatus were shipped from York subsidiaries in the United States.

Once general construction was mostly completed, about 18 months ago, a half dozen York workers arrived to work with the general contractor and local subcontractors to install the refrigeration equipment.

Working under a tight time schedule, the installation was finished in three months to accommodate trials that take place a year before the Olympics. From start to finish, between 70 and 100 York workers from around the world were involved in building the track.

Situated in Hunderfossen, 30 miles from the tiny town of Lillehammer, the 1,700-meter track is carved into a wooded hillside, allowing refrigerant piping and other equipment to be buried in culverts.

Ice on the track stays frozen because of an ammonia-chilled glycol solution that runs through piping underneath the ramps. The liquid ammonia refrigerant is environmentally safer than traditional fluorocarbons, Mr. Ricci said.

"The Lillehammer committee's goal was to protect the natural beauty of this exquisite setting and provide excellent viewing for to 20,000 spectators," he said.

Since the combined luge-bobsled facility opened more than a year ago, it has been the site of several World Cup races, including a recent one where the U.S. doubles team finished third. Olympic officials credit the York training complex for the significant strides U.S. luge competitors have made this year.

"All of us at York will look on with great pride if one of our athletes takes the medals stand," Mr. Ricci said.

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