MOSCOW, November 17 (RIA Novosti's sports analyst Mikhail Smirnov) - Russian skaters have not been too successful at the start of the new pre-Olympic season: they actually went flop in the World Cup first stage in Hamar in Norway.

In combined events, the Russian national team suffered a total defeat. In individual classification, the Dutchmen, Canadians and Americans won two victories each while the best Russians Yevgeni Lalenkov and Olga Tarasova emerged the ninth and 10th, respectively, in 1,500 metres. Nor, did the Russians win the laurels in team racing: the men emerged the fifth and women could not even enter the best ten. So, Russian racers will not be in the best mood beginning the World Cup second stage, due in Berlin

this weekend.

The disheartening start of the season is all the more strange that, for the first time in many years, Russian speed skaters could have, at last, undergone preparation in home comfort - the unique ice complex Krylatskoe in Moscow was put to use in early September.

It is the biggest sports complex of its kind in Europe, Russia's only with a indoor 400-metre ice track of international class, rinks for ice hockey, curling and short track. Its employees have told RIA Novosti that it is the world's only skating ground flooded by specially prepared tap water. The ice cover is 3 centimetres thick and the Klimat special automatic system monitors the upkeep of ice parameters.

Very soon the ice complex will have a children's skating school, hotel for sportsmen, parking lots.

Krylatskoe is ready to receive not only skaters. In late November it will house the final tournament of the world tennis championship among women's Fed Cup teams, in which the national teams of Austria, Spain, France and Russia will participate. Figure skating, ice hockey and Russian hockey competitions will be held.

Still, speed skaters are the masters of Krylatskoe. Opening up the ice complex, Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov said: "The time is over when a Russian speed skating championship had to be held in Berlin, not in Russia".

This why Krylatskoe is thoroughly getting ready to house its first large speed skating event: on February 4 through 6, 2005 the world championship in combined events will be held. Sportsmen from 20 countries will take part. Really, Russian speed skaters should not flop on home ice.

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