The anti-Greece: Beijing too prepared

Posted: Friday, August 13, 2004

ATHENS, Greece In contrast to Athens' down-to-the-wire preparations, organizers of the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing are slowing their vigorous construction timetable at the request of the International Olympic Committee though the Chinese still plan to have all venues ready a year ahead of time.

IOC President Jacques Rogge said Thursday that the unprecedented request for a delay was mainly a money-saving measure.

''Usually, it's the other way around,'' he said, alluding to the IOC's exhortations to Athens and some previous host cities to speed up slow-moving construction.

Liu Jingmin, a Beijing deputy mayor and vice president of the organizing committee, told a news conference that organizers would take the opportunity to re-evaluate venues already being built, such as the 100,000-seat national stadium, and those not yet under construction.

''There will be some small changes to individual projects,'' he said. ''All will be done by 2007 to allow time for proper testing of them.''

Liu said that, even with the changes, organizers will spend less than the planned ceiling of $2 billion for new venues.

Beijing indicated in its bid proposal for hosting the Games that it would have the venues ready by 2006. But IOC member Kevin Gosper said the IOC commission working with the organizers felt the timetable was creating an unnecessary financial squeeze.

Commission chairman Hein Verbruggen ''suggested in the most diplomatic way that they could ease off on some of their targets for completion,'' Gosper told The Associated Press.

''They're using cash earlier than necessary and our advice was to rearrange the cash flow it's sensible business management.''

Although the Athens organizers barely completed all Olympics facilities in time for Friday's opening ceremony, Liu was lavish in his praise for the Greek hosts and the venues they built.

He also disclosed that China will offer an eight-minute performance at the Athens closing ceremony on Aug. 29, at which Beijing's mayor will take possession of the Olympic flag. The theme, Liu said, would be ''from Olympia to the Great Wall.''

China hopes to impress the world in 2008 not only with the Olympic facilities but also with a flood of gold medals. To that end, it has brought a young, well-financed team to Athens with the aim of gaining experience for the Beijing Games.

The average age of the 407 athletes in Athens is 23.3, compared with 23.8 in Sydney four years ago. In some cases, champions were left at home to make room on the team for younger competitors expected to be medal contenders in 2008.

Li Furong, a vice president of the Chinese delegation, said China hopes to win at least 20 gold medals in Athens and finish no worse then third in the overall medal standings behind the United States and Russia. He noted that China's preparations have included hiring several foreign coaches to help improve performance in relatively weak sports for example, an American woman, Treshan McDonald, is coaching the women's softball team.

In a foretaste of its role as Olympic host, Beijing was the site earlier this month of the Asian Cup soccer championship. It ended on a sour note when Chinese fans, angered by the team's 3-1 loss to Japan in the final, scuffled with police. Two photographers for international news agencies were beaten by officers.

Li condemned the rowdy fans' behavior, but noted that many nations have struggled with the problem of soccer violence.

As for the handling of journalists, Gosper said the IOC had been discussing the topic with Beijing organizers.

''We're encouraging them to be as cooperative in this respect as any previous organizing committee. They listen well,'' Gosper said. ''The international press should have all the freedoms they're accustomed to in covering such events.''

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