The IOC said yesterday that Athens still faces a race against the clock to make up for repeated delays and deliver venues on time for the 2004 Summer Olympics. In a sign that progress is being made, the International Olympic Committee executive board approved Athens’s $1.7 billion budget, ticketing program, sports competition schedule and torch relay plans. (The latter is unprecedented in that it plans to cross five continents). Athens organizing chief Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki reported to the board on all aspects of the Games’ planning. The budget, she said, is balanced, it comes to 1.96 billion euros, 80 percent of which has already been attained through contracts with sponsors. It is clear that significant progress has been made in all areas, Angelopoulos-Daskalaki said. However, time remains the most critical element of the preparation for the games. We have to strengthen our efforts even more. We do not have a single day to waste. Denis Oswald, head of the IOC panel overseeing the Athens preparations, also gave a detailed report to the board. He had been highly critical after a visit to Athens in September, but was much more positive after an inspection last month. The delay which has been accumulated in the first years is still existing, he said. The remaining time to achieve the huge task that is necessary to be ready for the Games needs a lot of hard work. We cannot lose any day. It will be a race against the clock until the end. We have to keep the pressure on. Oswald said one of the most critical problems is a shortage of 3,000 hotel beds. He said there is a possibility that new hotels will be built or that more cruise ships will be used for accommodation Oswald also said that Athens plans to unveil its Olympic mascot program next month. Rather than needing the approval of the full executive board, the plans will require only the endorsement of IOC president Jacques Rogge and Oswald. Angelopoulos-Daskalaki was able to present the IOC yesterday with the news that Greece’s State Audit Council had approved the contract to build a horse track and equestrian center at the town of Markopoulo, at an estimated cost of 75 billion drachmas.