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For Some Fans, Figure Skating Is Out of Sight

Venues: Delta Center's configuration makes for awkward viewing, but competitors say the ice is great.


SALT LAKE CITY — In figure skating terms, the Delta Center would have gotten a 4.9 for required elements and a 5.8 for presentation on the first day of the Four Continents figure skating championships, a test event for next year's Salt Lake City Winter Games.

Because of its odd configuration, the arena for Olympic figure skating events merited less than a perfect 6.0 on Wednesday.

Several rows of terraced seats were removed to expand the ice to international dimensions--200 feet long and 100 feet wide, 15 feet wider than an NHL rink. That left the first row of seats looming 15 feet above the ice. When skaters glided toward the sideboards or into the corners, they vanished from the view of most spectators.

"It's a little weird sometimes to look up and expect to see a face and see a screen or just a black curtain," U.S. pairs skater Kyoko Ina said.

Aware that sight-line problems would arise, the Salt Lake Organizing Committee proposed locating figure skating in the E Center, in nearby West Valley. But the International Skating Union vetoed that because the Delta Center seats 15,937 for figure skating and the E Center seats 10,451.

The SLOC looked into raising the ice surface on a platform, but that might have caused the ice to crack.

TV screens will be installed to help spectators see the action, and prices were dropped as low as $35 for obstructed-view seats. Despite the problems, tickets are sold out.

The sight lines are not a problem for judges, who are seated rink-side.

For skaters, though, little can be done to alleviate the sensation that they are at the bottom of a canyon. Competition organizers brought in busloads of schoolchildren Wednesday morning, and their enthusiastic squealing energized the arena.

"With those big screens," Mitt Romney, head of Salt Lake City's organizing committee, said optimistically, "it's really going to rock."

Ottavio Cinquanta, head of the ISU, said of the video compromise: "I cannot declare that I am happy. But we have to use common sense."

He added that he trusted Romney's judgment on the issue and said, "I think at the end of the day the entire event will be of such a high standard that the crowd will express its appreciation and enthusiasm and the Delta Center will not be remembered just for basketball."

Mattering most to skaters is the ice, and in that respect the arena got high marks.

"The ice is great, the building is warm, and with the kids here it was great because they made noise for us," said Canada's Jamie Sale, who combined with partner David Pelletier on a sultry short program that put them in the lead, ahead of 2000 world silver medalists Xue Shen and Hongbo Xhao of China.

"Unfortunately for the spectators, when you're that high up maybe you can't see as well, but it doesn't affect us at all. I really like this rink a lot."

So do fellow Canadians Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz, top performers in the compulsory ice dances.

"The ice is wonderful," Kraatz said. "It's fast ice, and I think it's going to be a great venue. . . . The most important thing is the ice is good. We've had a similar situation at Lausanne [Switzerland] at worlds, and you get used to it."

U.S. silver medalist Todd Eldredge said he wasn't bothered by the distance between the fans and ice as he took the lead with a conservative short program in the men's competition.

Chengjiang Li of China was second and Matthew Savoie, who was third at the U.S. championships, was third. Michael Weiss struggled again and tied for fifth after he omitted an element and simplified a jump. The two-time U.S. champion stumbled to a fourth-place finish at this year's meet a few weeks ago.


Other Salt Lake City venue issues:

* SPEEDSKATING--The indoor oval, located perhaps half an hour from downtown in Kearns, Utah, had to be rebuilt because of problems with the concrete as it was originally poured. Ice is now due to be set down and a test event is set for March 9-11.

The oval is a symbol of the differences Olympic veterans can expect when comparing Nagano and Salt Lake. The $300-million 'M-wave," as the Nagano oval was called for its dramatically shaped roof, was an architectural and fan sensation in 1998.

The Kearns facility, called the Utah Olympic Oval, will cost $30 million, Romney said. The ceiling shows exposed beams. Some fans will have to use portable toilets.

"Our building won't be as pretty as Nagano's," Romney said. "But after the Games are over, a $30-million building can be viable economically. A $300-million building won't be."

* DRUG TESTING--The International Olympic Committee's ruling executive board declared Wednesday during a meeting in Dakar, Senegal, that a temporary laboratory operated by UCLA will be established in Salt Lake City during the Games.

The board, acting on the IOC medical commission's recommendation, rejected the organizing committee's plan to handle drug-testing at the UCLA lab in Westwood, which was used for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

The issue had potentially significant financial consequences for the organizing committee. But IOC Director General Francois Carrard said that, if at Games' end SLOC's overall budget is in the red, the IOC will contribute $500,000 toward costs of the lab.


Staff writer Alan Abrahamson contributed to this story.

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