NEWS

2004 reaches syrtaki pace, Rogge says

Citing Greece’s unique legacy and hailing its hard work over the past two years, the International Olympic Committee’s top official said in Athens yesterday that the 2004 preparations are showing «outstanding and evident» progress and that the Games could provide «cultural added value» for the world while leaving a local legacy of structural improvements lasting decades. Jacques Rogge was speaking at a Foreign Press Association luncheon in his honor, along with Athens 2004 President Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki and Coordination Commission President Denis Oswald. His three-day visit, which included a helicopter tour, ends with today’s Olympic torch unveiling. Rogge likened Games preparations to syrtaki music, starting slowly and building to a crescendo. Even the space shuttle can be delayed, he said, drawing another droll metaphor, but the opening ceremonies cannot. Deadlines, Rogge stressed, are tight, but remain «feasible, reasonable, and credible.» On specific issues, Oswald said the Olympic Stadium roof, designed by Santiago Calatrava, will be decided on in April, while he confirmed that rolling stock for the new suburban railroad will be delivered on time, soothing earlier fears. Not all was sweetness and light. All speakers emphasized the urgency of finalizing the delayed and costly ($400 million) security systems contact, which Oswald said would be signed «very soon.» Calling himself «a child of Munich» (as a member of Belgium’s sailing team at the terror-plagued 1972 Olympics), Rogge stressed that security is the «No.1 priority.» All stressed Greece’s contractual obligation to allow visa-free admission for all accredited persons. Rogge also insisted the test events would be valuable even if the venues weren’t ready, as these also measure human skills. And citing positive words from EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom on the Schinias rowing venue, Angelopoulos-Daskalaki defended the Games’s oft-criticized environmental dimension, including the Neo Faliron coastline cleanup.