Olympics get IOC vote of confidence

Posted: Thursday, May 13, 2004

ATHENS, Greece -- The last-gasp work to prepare Athens for the Summer Games got a vote of confidence Wednesday from the International Olympic Committee's chief inspector.

''In the past, we had doubts ... and I am very happy to report all these doubts have disappeared,'' Denis Oswald said at the close of the IOC's final major visit before the Aug. 13-29 Olympics.

The upbeat tone was a welcome change compared to the atmosphere of previous inspections, when Oswald and others pressed for faster work and more substantial results.

Oswald said he wanted to convey ''a message of confidence.''

It was a huge relief for Greek Olympic planners who have faced criticism and questions about their ability to pull together a successful games.

The head of local organizing, Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, summed up the mood: ''Thank heaven that this progress is finally being made.''

Four years ago, the IOC was so worried about delays and bureaucratic inertia that it said the Olympics could be in jeopardy.

''No single project is at risk, and we know everything will be delivered on time,'' Oswald said Wednesday.

IOC president Jacques Rogge echoed the sentiment in an interview with French newspaper Le Monde, saying: ''I'm thoroughly convinced that our Greek friends will be ready.''

There are details to take care of when construction crews leave sites, such as painting and landscaping. But Oswald emphasized that the biggest concerns are in the past.

''With more of the same inspiration, determination and teamwork the IOC has seen this week in Athens, all the remaining sports venues for the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games will be finished in time,'' Oswald said.

Venues are supposed to be ready by the end of June. A new tram linking the city center with seaside venues, and a suburban rail connecting the airport with the main Olympic complex are to be delivered mid-July.

On Monday, one of two 8,000-ton steel arches began moving along specially built tracks at the main Olympic stadium.

''The sliding of the roof into place over the stadium is more than just an incredible feat of engineering. It is a symbol to the outside world of the progress that has been made,'' Oswald said.

The glass-and-steel roof will protect the 75,000-seat stadium from Athens' brutal summer sun, which often pushes the temperature past 100. Organizers also see the roof as a source of pride for Greeks saddled with Olympic bills that have surpassed $6.7 billion.

Oswald said the round-the-clock efforts to install the roof show that tight deadlines can be met.

Now officials must turn their attention to running the games, including transportation and security. Oswald said he's confident that the equipment will be in place and personnel trained for the security program -- at more than $1 billion, the most costly in Olympic history.

During its three-day visit, Oswald's team met with Greek authorities and representatives of a seven-nation security advisory task force, which includes the United States and Britain. Greek police and military plan to begin a four-day drill Thursday with terrorist and hostage scenarios.

On Tuesday, Greece's public order minister, Giorgos Voulgarakis, called the triple bombing outside a police station last week ''high treason.'' No one was injured in the blasts, but they touched off worldwide anxiety about safety in Athens. There have been no arrests and no claim of responsibility.

Oswald said the bombings ''did not affect'' the IOC's view of security planning, because, ''It did not happen in a secured Olympic area. This can happen everywhere.''

Angelopoulos-Daskalaki said: ''This summer, no nation will be doing more than Greece to protect those within its borders.''

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