London, Ont., Zamboni driver heads to Pyeongchang Olympics

Art Johnston will represent Canada at the Olympics, although not in the usual athlete aiming for the podium kind of way.

'It's more than just driving around in a circle,' Art Johnston says of his work maintaining rinks

Art Johnston says the stakes are high for Zamboni drivers at the Olympics, as the quality of the ice could make the difference between whether the puck bounces into the net or not. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

Art Johnston will represent Canada at the Olympics, although not in the usual athlete aiming for the podium kind of way.

Johnston is one of two Zamboni drivers from Canada and one of eight from North America who will keep the ice smooth at the Olympics.

He's heading to Pyeongchang on Sunday and will work the duration of the Olympic Games.

Even though his performance isn't based on athletic prowess, the stakes are nonetheless high.

"It's more than just driving around in a circle," said Johnston, who works as a facility equipment operator at Earl Nichols Arena in London, Ont.

"You have to know how much to cut, how much water to put down ... Last thing I want is having a bad bounce on a goal because of a bad flood that I did."

'Unreal' atmosphere

Johnston is familiar with pressure of Olympic proportions. 

He worked the Vancouver 2010 Games, which is where he met the icemaker for the Pyeongchang Olympics, who asked him to join the 2018 Olympics Zamboni crew.

But eight years ago, it was Johnston's first Olympics.

He proved himself enough to work the gold medal hockey game.

Johnston, a City of London facility equipment operator, resurfaces the ice dozens of times a day at Earl Nichols Arena (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

"The atmosphere was unreal," said Johnston

"I hope my performance gets me to [the gold medal game] this time."

But unlike the last time around, he won't get a chance to work alongside NHL greats such as Sidney Crosby.

That's fine by Johnston, who thinks the NHL's decision not to allow players to compete in the Olympics will help level the playing field. 

"I think this year [the gold] could go to anybody," said Johnston.

The Zamboni driver seems to hold a similar place in children's hearts to the ice cream truck driver.

Johnston's favourite part of the job is seeing the look on kids' faces as he glides around the rink.

"You see the kids' excitement," he said with a smile.

The Zamboni at Earl Nichols Arena in London and the machine he'll sit atop of in Pyeongchang are dramatically different than the first Zamboni he drove in 1988.

"When I first started driving a Zamboni, it was a Ford diesel tractor with a box on the back that held the snow."

But from the first time on the tractor, he was hooked.

"I'm going over to Pyeongchang to do something I love doing," said Johnston.

On Friday Feb. 9, London Morning is taking the show on the road for an Olympic Opening Ceremony viewing party and live broadcast at Boler Mountain in London, Ont.

Listen to the show, watch the Opening Ceremony, meet the London Morning crew and enjoy some coffee by a warm fire.

The first 100 people will get free CBC London mugs.

See you there!


Julianne Hazlewood is a multimedia journalist who's worked at CBC newsrooms across the country as a host, video journalist, reporter and producer. Have a story idea?