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Ready Rink Ends Chill Over Skating : Goodwill Games: Yubileiny’s ice finally ready for competition, easing tensions.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Cold War, or perhaps it should be called the Ice War, between U.S. and Russian officials responsible for the organization of the Goodwill Games ended a short time before noon Thursday when Olympic figure skating champion Alexei Urmanov tested the infamous surface of the Yubileiny Sports Palace--and his courage--with a triple lutz.

Yubileiny, which has provided little of the jubilation that its name implies, is Urmanov’s home rink, and the other men gathered for their first practice there watched the Russian closely to see whether he broke the ice or a limb or two with his landing. He did not, but that jump did serve as the ice breaker as his competitors finally felt secure enough to attempt their power moves.

In the stands, a relieved David Raith, Goodwill Games vice president in charge of sports, called his boss, Jack Kelly, and told him that the Russians with the St. Petersburg Organizing Committee had been right.

They might have been a day late and a few rubles short, but the premier event of the third Goodwill Games’ waning days, figure skating, would start Thursday night at Yubileiny instead of at the backup rink, the SKA Ice Palace.

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Practice was not perfect during the day. When U.S. pairs skater Calla Urbanski came off the ice, she complained: “This is not acceptable for international competition. I can’t believe the Russians, in the rink where Tamara Moskvina coaches the Olympic champions, would allow conditions like this.”

She, however, was not entirely dissatisfied.

“The bathrooms are better here,” she said, comparing them to the facilities at SKA.

But by the time the competition started eight hours later, the competitors were skating on thick enough ice for Moskvina, who coaches the Olympic pairs gold medalists of 1992 and silver medalists of ’94--Natalia Mishkutenok and Artur Dmitriev--and she was able to joke about the problems of previous days.

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“In America, skaters make publicity about the sport by hitting each other,” she said. “Here, we mess up the ice.”

There apparently was not enough publicity to attract enough figure skating fans, or even curiosity seekers, as there were only an estimated 4,000 spectators in the 7,000-seat arena. But those who were there saw skaters in men’s singles, pairs and dance perform their technical programs without being too hampered by the conditions.

Even Urbanski said the ice was better than it had been during the morning. Dmitriev said it was good and forecast it will be almost perfect today. And the United States’ Todd Eldredge said it was excellent.

Considering the way he skated, Eldredge had reason for his positive outlook. The two-time U.S. champion, who has slumped since his 1992 back injury, was second after the technical program, between the leader, Urmanov, and third-place Philippe Candeloro, the Olympic bronze medalist from France.

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Other U.S. skaters provided less sterling performances, but none blamed the ice. “I’d like to say that was the reason, but it wasn’t,” said Aren Nielsen, seventh in the eight-man competition.

That appeared to have ended the controversy that chilled relations between the Goodwill Games officials from Atlanta, who work for founder Ted Turner, and their partners with the St. Petersburg Organizing Committee.

The Russians were probably rescued by Dr. Germain Sergeyevich Potehin, who volunteered his services Wednesday night.

Potehin, a former professor of applied chemistry who now works in private industry, brought with him a formula involving liquid nitrogen and oxygen. He used it to form a cushion of cold air above the water in the rink, enabling it to freeze. Hosing down the roof to cool it off after two weeks of scorching heat also helped bring down the temperature in the building, which lacks air-conditioning.

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By noon Thursday, the skaters knew not only when they would skate but where. They had been confused since arriving here, but despite that, most seem to be taking the inconveniences in stride and enjoying the city.

Although two figure skating sessions had to be scheduled for today, Michelle Kwan of Torrance was relieved to discover that her competition, women’s singles, would end as originally planned Saturday afternoon. She has a ticket to see the Mariinsky Ballet perform “Swan Lake” that night.

Goodwill Games Notes

The U.S. women’s basketball team, led by Lisa Leslie’s 20 points, beat Russia, 77-63, to reach the semifinals against tournament favorite China. France will play Russia in the other semifinal. . .. . In diving, Chen Lixia of China won gold in the women’s 1-meter springboard. U.S. divers Melisa Moses and Mary Ellen Clark finished seventh and 11th, respectively. . . . In men’s gymnastics, Russia’s Aleksei Nemov followed up his victory in the all-around competition with golds in two individual apparatus finals. Scott Keswick of the United States shared the bronze with Dmitri Vasilenko. . . . In canoe-kayak, Americans Mike Harbold and Peter Newton took silver in the men’s K-2 1,000-meter race, and Michael Herbert won bronze over the same distance in the men’s K-1 class.

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