NEWS

Events test readiness

A year before the start of the Athens Olympics, the city is almost in full Olympic mode, with the hosting of seven test events this month, and 32 more to follow from October until June 2004. The first test event, the World Junior Rowing Championships, will start tomorrow and finish on Saturday. Yesterday, the opening ceremony was held for the rowing center at Schinias, northeast of Athens. It was attended, among others, by Denis Oswald, the chief overseer of Athens’s preparations. Oswald, a member of the International Olympic Committee’s Executive Board, is also the president of the International Rowing Federation (FISA). Only one test event has been conducted so far, a sailing competition in August 2002. The events, which will be attended by a total of 1,600 athletes and 460 event officials, as well as 2,000 volunteers, will test the adequacy of facilities and organization. According to the Athens 2004 Organizing Committee, «the aim is to identify potential errors or deficiencies, which will then be analyzed so as to avoid them at (the time of the) Games.» A total of 2,695 policemen, soldiers, firefighters and «security volunteers» will be deployed to guarantee security at «an Olympics level,» and there will be several road closures and traffic diversions. For the first test event, rowing, Schinias Avenue, between Kato Souliou and Poseidonos avenues, will be closed to traffic between 6.30 a.m. and 9.30 a.m. and between noon and 3 p.m. each day from tomorrow through Saturday. The test events may seek to simulate Olympic conditions, but most of the venues in which they will take place are not complete. The security communications system will not be in place, either. The 557 athletes from 45 countries taking part in the rowing event have already found that strong winds, which are quite frequent, made training impossible. Officials were privately saying that tall trees would need to be planted along both banks of the 2,000-meter course. Oswald, who had asked about tree-planting in general in the past, had made the self-evident remark that «trees need time to grow.» If IOC chief Jacques Rogge’s remarks in an interview published in yesterday’s Ta Nea newspaper are an indication, Olympic officials are chiefly worried about transport. «The transfer of everyone taking part in the Olympics is one of the riskiest points on which the IOC lay especial importance,» Rogge said, adding that «I can now express my complete satisfaction with the progress of preparations for the Games in Athens – progress in all areas is clear.»