The Russian organizers of the Goodwill Games saved face today by winning the battle to keep the already delayed figure skating competition at its original venue.
A new cooling technology, borrowed from the Russian subway system and never before used on ice rinks here, was called in at the last minute and was able at last to produce a satisfactory surface at the Yubileiny Sports Palace."The first practice has taken place and it was successful," said Vitaly Mutko, deputy mayor of St. Petersburg and deputy chairman of the local organizing committee. "The figure skating will start (tonight) at the Yubileiny complex."
The Russians didn't do as well on the basketball court, where the U.S. women's team rolled to a 77-63 victory over the hosts. The United States, which trounced Italy 92-37 on Wednesday, advanced to the semifinals on Saturday.
On the water, Russians won two golds and three silvers and the Americans a silver and a bronze in the three kayak and two canoe races.
Americans Mike Harbold and Peter Newton took silver in the men's K-2 1,000-meter race, while Michael Herbert won bronze over the same distance in the men's K-1 class.
The announcement of the skating venue ended 24 hours of confusion that saw the Games' American owners battle with Russian bureaucratic intransigence over whether the event should be moved to the modest SKA rink, a local hockey hall.
The competition was put back a day to Thursday, but the decision on where it would take place was twice postponed as the Russians insisted the ice at Yubileiny could be made ready.
In the end, the Russians came through, even if it was a day late.
"A great deal of progress has been made over the last 24 hours," Goodwill Games president Jack Kelly said. "The quality of the ice appears to be up to standard."
Kelly said the ice-making problems at Yubileiny, which hosted boxing until last Saturday, were solved by a break in the heat wave that has hit St. Petersburg, application of the new technology, and, after days of little progress, a "proper level of management and attention" from the local organizers.
"There was obviously some skepticism about trying an untried technology, but obviously the results speak for themselves," Kelly said. "It was a matter of putting a stronger cooling agent into the system. This had never been used on an ice rink, but the principle ... is to circulate a mixture of oxygen and liquid nitrogen through the pipes for quicker cooling and more complete cooling.
"I have to admit we were cautious about it. But it worked. All the skaters expressed satisfaction with the ice as they came off."
Kelly and the Russian organizers showed up at Yubileiny early today and watched a couple of Russian pairs try out the ice. Kelly insisted, however, that no decision be made until the American skaters arrived for practice an hour later.
"It's seems normal," said 1992 Olympic pairs gold medalist Artur Dmitriev, a St. Petersburg native who trains at Yubileiny with partner Natalia Mishkutienok. "I said I didn't think they could do it, but they did it."
The Americans also gave a thumbs-up when they arrived.
"The ice is about an inch thick," said Peter Oppegard, coach to American pair Stephanie Stiegler and Lance Travis. "It's a little crunchy, but it's okay."
Kelly, who had blamed much of the problems on the management at Yubileiny and suggested that some people there would be out of a job, praised the outside expert brought in to save the day.
"I think this guy may have made himself a candidate to run Yubileiny," he said.
Adding more misery to the Games Wednesday was the news that all three yachting events were abandoned because of a lack of wind on the Gulf of Finland. Weather permitting, the races will be added to today's program.
In events that did take place Wednesday, Russians swept the top three places in the men's all-around gymnastics; Chinese diver Chen Sheng won gold in the 1-meter springboard, with Kevin McMahon of the United States in third; and the U.S. women's volleyball team beat China 3-0 to advance to the final against Russia.
Highlights later today included individual apparatus finals in the men's gymnastics and the women's 1-meter springboard diving competition.
Plus, at last, the first night of figure skating, with the pairs' and men's technical programs and the ice dance compulsories.