Athens 2004 preparations impress IOC

The International Olympic Committee Coordination Commission’s 11th, and next to last, inspection visit ended yesterday, with commission chairman Denis Oswald praising Athens’s progress but, once again, warning that «time is the most important factor» and that «not a single day is to be lost.» Oswald heaped praise on Olympics organizers Athens 2004 for speeding up preparations. «It was nearly a shock to see how much work has been achieved» since the commission’s last visit, said Oswald in what was probably the most upbeat report he has delivered since he became the commission’s head in July 2001. Three major projects remain of concern to the IOC: the refurbishment of the Olympic Stadium, which includes the construction of a glass-and-steel roof designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, the tramway and the suburban railway, which will connect Athens airport with the city center. A group of IOC transport experts had issued a report expressing misgivings about the timely completion of the last two projects, Oswald said, so earlier this week there were talks with Greek officials and «decisions were reached… to speed up work.» Now Oswald appeared satisfied that both infrastructure projects will be operational on time. In any case, he said, «contingency plans exist,» but did not elaborate much other than to say that if rolling stock for the suburban railway were not ready on time, trains would be brought in to fill the gap. This latter measure is almost a certainty since the Skaramangas shipyard, which had undertaken to build the suburban railway carriages, has not delivered. The government claims it is this company’s duty to provide an alternative by leasing carriages from abroad. As for the «Calatrava roof,» IOC inspectors were «impressed by the progress achieved» since their last visit. Here, again, Oswald referred to assurances by Greek authorities that the structure will be finally put in place by June 30, adding that other works at the Olympic Stadium will not be hindered. The commission’s last inspection will take place in May 2004.