Originally created 04/01/04

IOC has new hope Olympic delays will be overcome



ATHENS, Greece -- A top IOC executive inspected one of the most troubled construction sites Wednesday and expressed fresh hope that Olympic delays will be overcome.

"It looks like they will be able to keep the deadlines," said Denis Oswald, the IOC official overseeing preparations for the Athens Games.

Oswald stood in a cloud of dust at the main Olympic stadium complex. He examined a roof placed on the velodrome where the cycling will be held.

"I must say I am now very optimistic," Oswald said. "There has been in the last four to five weeks a number of very positive elements."

Oswald was alluding to the change in government March 7, when Premier Costas Caramanlis' conservatives ousted the Socialists from power after 11 years. Caramanlis has since taken personal charge of the Olympics and the government has scaled down some projects and speeded up others.

They include canceling a roof for the main swimming pool - next to the velodrome - curtailing the length of a tram line serving seaside Olympic venues, and scaling back a delayed project to widen the marathon route.

"Now we are in a very positive phase, with very good progress in different projects," a grinning Oswald said as he looked up the velodrome roof designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.

"I am sure that you are as impressed as I am when you look at this wonderful roof. It is a very important step forward in the preparation of the games," he said.

Workers managed in two days to maneuver the 4,000-ton roof into position over the oval-shaped stadium by pushing it 443 feet along two tracks.

As he stood under the skeletal-looking steel roof, resembling a spiky humpbacked dome, trucks full of dirt drove by and bulldozers roared in the distance - a surprise for Oswald and other officials given that Greece's labor unions had declared a one-day nationwide strike. It is extremely rare for workers in Greece to ignore a strike call.

As he stood under the roof, Oswald could not help but look across a dirt-strewn field to the one project that has caused grief for the IOC: the delayed roof of the main Olympic stadium.

"The fact that this challenge has been mastered in such a fantastic way is a big encouragement for the other roof, which has always been a challenge. It gives full confidence that it will be completed perfectly well and on time," he said.

Oswald, however, again warned the government that the steel-and-glass dome roof designed by Calatrava for the main Olympic stadium must be ready by the end of June - weeks ahead of its promised July 20 delivery date.

The government has promised to meet the new deadline, which will overlap with vital inspections and competitions by track and field's governing body. The IAAF has said a final check of the new track surface is planned for May 16 and pre-Olympic test events will take place on June 10.

As Oswald toured the velodrome he was joined by Prince Albert of Monaco, who happened to be taking his own private tour of the construction site. He was in Athens to take part in the Olympic flame relay.

"It's in the interest of everyone, it's in the interest of the Olympics that everything goes as smoothly as possible and that everything gets finished," said the prince, an IOC member. "I think there is no doubt in my mind that things will get done."