Originally created 05/06/04

Construction delays prompt Olympic security concerns



WASHINGTON -- Construction delays at the Olympic venues in Athens are becoming a security issue, and congressmen are concerned about the safety of U.S. athletes.

Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., said that while he has heard a lot of "general assurances" about the safety of the Aug. 13-29 Games, he wants more details about how security will be ensured at sites that have yet to be finished.

"We were beginning to hear a lot of concerns about the preparations and whether we should go," said Smith, adding that he believes it is important for the United States to attend the Olympics.

With just 100 days to go before the opening ceremonies, construction of the main stadium roof is so far behind that the International Olympic Committee has considered canceling it. Other projects - including construction of a tram line - are also far behind.

Mark Camillo, the former Secret Service coordinator for the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, testified at a Senate subcommittee hearing Tuesday that safety precautions should be built in as the sites are developed.

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who headed the 2002 Winter Games, said the teams that designed the venues in Salt Lake City worked with law enforcement.

"Our goal was to design security into our games, instead of just putting a security overlay on the venues when they were done," Romney told the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Competition, Foreign Commerce and Infrastructure.

He and the other experts said security must be painstakingly coordinated between law enforcement at all levels, and there should be a strong emphasis on intelligence gathering.

In a classified briefing after the hearing, Smith and Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., quizzed State Department officials about Athens security.

During the hearing, Olympic gold medalists urged the subcommittee not to consider keeping U.S. athletes home.

Steven Lopez, who won the gold medal in taekwondo four years ago and is hoping to repeat this summer, said athletes can't help but think about security, but he needs to focus on doing the best he can at his sport.

Nine-time gold medal sprinter and long jumper Carl Lewis said he'll never forget making the team in 1980, only to be forced to stay home when the United States decided not to compete in the Moscow Games.

"Absent some clear and present danger, we should never take that course of action again," he said. "Our athletes have been training for much of their lives for this very special moment. Let's not take that away from them."

The Athens Olympics will be the first Summer Games since the Sept. 11 terror attacks. For the first time, international Olympic officials have taken out cancellation insurance: a $170 million policy to protect against war, terrorism or earthquakes. Officials expect to spend more than $1 billion on security.