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They’re Still Playing Dirty Pool in Russia : Goodwill Games: Swimming competition postponed a day. Raveling threatens walkout over practice court foul-up.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Half a decade into glasnost, or openness, some Russian officials apparently are still not comfortable with the concept. During a news conference Friday to discuss the Goodwill Games, St. Petersburg’s deputy mayor was asked about the SKA swimming pool, where competition was scheduled to begin today.

After Vitali Mutko was overheard through a sensitive microphone whispering to his colleagues on the stage that discussion of the pool was off limits, he finally announced, “I don’t think we should raise this question at the press conference today.”

Realizing that Mutko’s non-response response had set off an alarm in the room filled with reporters, the Goodwill Games’ president, Jack Kelly of Atlanta, interrupted, acknowledging that a mishap during the filtration process this week had turned the water in the newly renovated pool black.

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Even though Kelly’s employer, Ted Turner, is the king of colorization, not even he had a solution to save the schedule. After U.S. and Russian swimming officials inspected the water late Friday and discovered that it was still a murky olive green, they announced that all 20 events would be held on Sunday.

As Mutko’s defensiveness earlier in the day revealed, the controversy is an embarrassment to organizers in St. Petersburg as they attempt to stage the first international multisport competition in Russia since the disintegration of the Soviet Union. They were hopeful that President Boris Yeltsin would arrive in the city for tonight’s opening ceremony at Kirov Stadium to find the Games progressing smoothly.

There is no chance of that, although not all of the bumps are the organizers’ fault. In the only sport played Friday, France’s opponent in team handball became Sweden after the South Koreans missed their flight from home.

But the organization appeared suspect when men’s basketball teams from the United States and China arrived at the Lenin Sport and Concert Complex for practice at the same time Friday.

When it was determined after a long argument that the hour belonged to the Chinese, U.S. Coach George Raveling was so agitated that he threatened to take his players home. Instead, he calmed down and ran them through drills on gymnastics mats next to the court while waiting for the Chinese to finish.

And although only the pool is not ready for use, some of the other venues are in various stages of refurbishment. Sprinter Carl Lewis said he visited almost every bathroom Thursday at the site for track and field, Petrovsky Stadium, before finding one that was functional.

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Organizers, however, remain optimistic that the situation with the pool will be their low-water mark during the 17-day event.

The SKA swimming pool, best known as the training home of former Soviet champion Vladimir Salnikov, was built 30 years ago and had become unsuitable for international competition before organizers approved a major reconstruction project last year. Confident that they had produced one of Europe’s fastest pools, they refilled it last week.

Disappointed that the water was not as clear as expected, they tried to speed up the process by having charcoal specially treated for pool filtration imported from Sweden. But a worker misunderstood the instructions and released the briquettes into the water, turning it black.

The filter has been working overtime since Thursday, but officials still could not see lane markers on the bottom of the pool Friday afternoon. Organizers expect the water to be blue, or at least a lighter shade of green, by this afternoon.

“Please do not exaggerate the problem,” Mutko said when he, taking Kelly’s lead, finally addressed the issue.

In fact, no one except the organizers seemed too put out by the schedule change. ABC, which is televising the games over three weekends, planned to feature swimming today, but a spokesman for the network, Mark Mandel, said it would be easy to redirect the cameras toward boxing and beach volleyball.

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As for the U.S. swimmers, they seemed pleased to have another day to prepare. They did not arrive from the United States until Wednesday and, still battling jet lag, had to spend more than three hours on a bus Thursday en route to and from an alternative pool at a naval base outside the city.

“We couldn’t believe that pool was still open,” said U.S. assistant coach Bud McAllister of Irvine. “If it were in the United States, it would be condemned. A lot of people thought the Russians were playing games with us. Then, we saw the Russians training there too.”

They located a more modern--and more convenient--practice pool Friday.

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