Five obstacles still to be overcome at main Olympic Stadium

Any or all of five different factors could prevent the completion of the main Olympic Stadium in time for the Games, according to government officials and expert observers. Last week, following a report in this newspaper, the government claimed that the Olympic Stadium renovation would be finished on schedule. Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos even went a step further, citing an absence of «national self-confidence.» The engineers replied that what Venizelos calls an absence of «national self-confidence» might have something to do with the fact that he contracted Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava without first consulting Greek architects. The cost of Calatrava’s design (about 12 million euros) is equal to the total annual turnover of the three or four largest architectural firms in Greece. He then referred to the new roof as a «monument» and a «symbol» of the Olympic Games, which he is now condemned to finish. Those in the know point out that the work currently under way at the Olympic Stadium bears little resemblance to Calatrava’s original design (regarding material and specifications). Considerable changes had to be made to make the project feasible, a job undertaken by the contracted construction firm (AKTOR-ATHENA-Themeliodomi), which announced last week that it would hand it over on time. However, the experts point to five areas on which the success of the undertaking rests and say the scheduled completion date of June is optimistic to say the least. Arches and connections The first point mentioned by engineers concerns the two arches of the dome and the material used in the joining work. The second point concerns the joints themselves and the results of the endurance tests, both during the final positioning of the dome and once it is in position, given the particular conditions it will be subjected to such as high winds. The Italian firm Cimolai (responsible for the Olympic Airlines technical headquarters at Eleftherios Venizelos Airport), which has considerable experience in major metal constructions, is in charge of this part of the work. Meanwhile, the construction consortium is facing problems with the supports on the southeastern side. The foundations for Calatrava’s roof have still not yet been built. Then there is the problem of positioning the enormous metal construction in its final position and the problems this could entail. The final problem concerns the «ribs» of the dome, to be covered by a special material to replace the glass panels called for in the original design. Naturally no one wants to see the project fail, although some are betting it will be extremely difficult to stick to the timetable. Olympic organizers are concerned that tighter schedules increase the risk of delays, something that might have catastrophic results for the country’s image. It is probably no coincidence that Denis Oswald, head of the International Olympic Committee’s Coordination Commission, said recently that the Games could go ahead without the dome.