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Canoes and kayaks in the ‘whitewater’ stadium

The first water sports facility on the site of the former airport at Hellenikon for the 2004 Olympic Games might achieve the ideal of near-perfect harmony between design and natural landscape. The kayak slalom facilities have been designed in a figure-of-eight by architect Nikos Fintikakis, the coordinator of the project, who told Kathimerini why he chose that shape. «The figure of eight is compact. It creates the sense of a natural river and bridges and it stays close to the idea of nature and the landscape, because it necessitates very few interventions.» Initially the slalom facilities were to be at Schinias, Marathon, but that would have meant building an artificial hill so as to create river and mountain conditions. But the site originally selected is flat, which would have necessitated a completely different type of construction that employed reinforced concrete, which may have caused environmental problems for the area. There was another factor which militated in favor of shifting the venue to Hellenikon. The artificial hill was to have been built close to a fault line, and this entailed using very high-quality reinforced concrete, significantly raising the cost. So, on paper at least, the kayak slalom course is moving to Hellenikon, where there is already a natural hill and no more installations need to be built, since Olympic Airways’ former cargo facilities can be utilized. The offices of the International Canoe Slalom Federation will be located there, along with other facilities for the sport. After the 2004 Olympic Games, Fintikakis said, the lake and other installations will become part of the Hellenikon Metropolitan Park and eventually develop into a recreation area for children. This has happened in France where whitewater stadiums occupy large expanses in metropolitan parks. Simon Pascal and Bernard Gille, wave technology experts from the French electricity utility, are acting as advisers to the Greek project. The whitewater stadium comprises a hill, and an artificial lake, river and canal, explains Fintikakis. The lake and river will contain seawater, pumped in through a 25-centimeter-wide pipe via the Trachanon stream, which empties into the sea at Alimos. An artificial kayak course first built for the Sydney Olympic Games proved successful, and has since been made available to children for recreational purposes. Another significant advantage of the new site, says Fintikakis, is that it will house installations for another six Olympic events, which spectators will be able to watch simultaneously. The design of the course also permits spectators to enjoy watching skilled performances during races, and not just the finish. After the Games, the new stadium will also attract athletes from central and eastern Europe and the Middle East.