TURIN, Italy (AP) – The speedskating oval for the Turin Games opened with World Cup races and praise from Olympic champion Casey FitzRandolph.

“I’m pleasantly surprised, it’s a real nice facility,” the American said Friday. “The ice changes day to day, hour to hour. They’re still playing with it.”

A week ago, construction on the oval was still ongoing. Roads need to be paved outside the venue and there are large muddy areas fans have to cross to enter. Inside, though, everything is complete.

FitzRandolph, the 500-meter champion in 2002 at Salt Lake City, finished seventh at that distance Friday. He was 0.23 seconds behind Chinese winner Yu Fengtong’s time of 35.19 seconds.

“I don’t think we will see any world records this weekend, at least in the sprint distances, but by February it should be much better,” FitzRandolph said.

Chad Hedrick of the United States won the 5,000 in 6 minutes, 20.29 seconds. Wang Manli of China took the women’s 500 in 38.25, and Anni Friesinger of Germany the 1,500, in 1:57.32.

The Turin Games run Feb. 10-26, and this weekend’s speedskating event – featuring more than 240 athletes from 28 countries – is a major test.

Called the Oval Lingotto, the ultramodern facility has a sleek shell of reflective glass and 7,800 seats. There are 56 miles of cooling coils under the ice.

The $82.5 million construction project began in June 2003, but was delayed due to an asbestos problem. The oval is located near the center of Turin, adjacent to the media center and close to the athletes’ village

IOC president tours Turin’s Olympic sites

TURIN, Italy – IOC president Jacques Rogge says much work remains for the Winter Olympics, yet he is confident it will be completed at a “very high standard” before the opening of the Feb. 10 games.

Rogge spoke to about 100 members of the Turin organizing committee Friday and toured the Olympic stadium and the main athletes’ village before attending the first races at the new speedskating oval. A three-time Olympian in sailing, Rogge praised the athletes’ village.

“I have no doubt as to how welcome the athletes will be made to feel on their arrival,” he said.

Rogge visited Turin with 63 days to go before the opening ceremony.

The government is expected to decide by the end of the month whether to cut $18.86 million from its final $47.14 million allocation to Olympic organizers.

“We have to wait for the government,” organizing committee chief executive officer Cesare Vaciago said Friday.

The board meeting had been scheduled for Dec. 20 and now will likely take place Jan. 9 or 10.

“I hope the government maintains its promise, but I don’t have a crystal ball,” Vaciago said.

Rogge arrived by plane from Rome after attending the beginning of the torch relay Thursday.

“After a brilliant start to the torch relay in Rome I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to come and see for myself some of the venues that will matter most to the athletes,” Rogge said.

“Both the stadium and village are wonderful examples of renovation that will continue to serve the community for many years to come,” he added.

After the games, the stadium will be used by at least one of Turin’s soccer clubs. The athletes’ village will be turned into residential housing and a European design center.

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