It took Michelangelo three years to carve "David" and Rodin 10 years to finish carving "The Kiss," but Kevin Gregory and Antonio Young only have 17 hours to carve two life-size, detailed angels holding a banner out of 10 300-pound blocks of ice.

Gregory and Young are just one of the 30 two-man ice carving teams that will compete at the International Ice Carving Competition in Provo during the Winter Games.

The 60 participating ice carvers are some of the best in the world, with each team having had to win national and international qualifiers to be selected to participate in this prestigious event.

Although it is part of the Cultural Olympiad ? the kinder, gentler part of the Olympics ? make no mistake, the ice-carving teams from around the world are coming to Provo to win. And just like all the other Olympic competitions, the ice carving top three winners will receive gold, silver and bronze medals, albeit Olympic Arts Festival medals.

"I'm a very competitive individual, and this one is the granddaddy of competitions," said Gregory, who runs a carving business, Ice Concepts, out of Philadelphia. "We're all taking time off from work and coming out just for the chance to win a gold medal."

The competition will take place from 4 p.m. on Feb. 15 to 9 a.m., Feb. 16 around the Utah County Historic Courthouse in the heart of Provo.

Of the competing teams, there will be 14 from the United States, three from Japan, two from Canada, two from Thailand, and teams from Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, France, Australia and others, said Chuck Cooper, a board member from the National Ice Carving Association who is in charge of the 2002 Olympic ice carving competition.

With teams coming from all over, Cooper said each area has its own flair and idea of what to create.

"We didn't want a theme the carvers had to follow because we wanted each team to let their own artistry and culture come through," Cooper said.

"In the Orient there is a strong dragon influence and a lot of animals in most of the pieces. The Scandinavian countries tend to be more modernistic, while the U.S. carvers lean more to human figures. The Australians are planning on doing something with an aboriginal theme for the competition."

Although the group of competitors will come from all over, Gregory said most of them got their start ice carving the same way: out on the loading docks behind a hotel's restaurant.

"I'd have to say about 95 percent of ice carvers started in the culinary field just fiddling with a block of ice out back to have something to put out on the table for the buffet," Gregory said.

During the 17 hours of competition, there isn't a moment to waste. "You get everything timed down to the exact minute," Gregory said. "With 50 different components to your piece to think about, a half an hour can make the difference of whether you make it in time or not."

To create the sculptures, the carvers use chainsaws, sanders, die grinders, a variety of chisels, blowtorches and other heating devices. Each piece of the sculpture is crafted and then attached by heating the two flat ice surfaces and pressing them together.

One important factor of the competition is the weather. If it's warm, special measures like dry ice are used to keep the pieces cold. Also, warm weather means that they have to wait until the last second to put on the light, finishing details or else they melt away too quickly.

Cooper refers to ice sculpting as a performance art that is spectator friendly. The truly tough thing about the medium, though, is the impermanence of the ice sculptures themselves.

"It's hard when there's a really good piece you have done and you just see it melt away," Cooper said. "But that's the way it is. You just hope your photos of your piece come out all right."

Even though it has been a part of the Cultural Olympiad since the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, the ice carving competition for the 2002 Games almost didn't happen. In fact, Cooper said, it is thanks to the "goodness of the city of Provo" that there will be an ice carving competition at all.

Originally the competition was going to take place at one of Utah's ski resorts, but the resort backed out at the last minute. Also, the ice carving competition receives no money from the Salt Lake Organizing Committee and wasn't allowed to try to get sponsor money for it either.

Just when it looked like the competition wouldn't happen, Cooper said, he mentioned the predicament to Sandy and Gene Henderson, who run a bed and breakfast in Provo, and they sprang into action. The Hendersons told the mayor and City Council about the predicament, and Provo excitedly offered a venue and help for the competition.

Even though the Olympic ice carving competition isn't as high profile as most of the Olympic sports and the participants will have to fork over their own money to make the trip to Provo, Gregory said none of them would dream of missing it.

"If you ask anybody, when you have a chance to be a part of the Olympics, you take it. Someone will get to walk away with a medal and that says it all."

E-MAIL: pthunell@desnews.com