Olympic Stadium roof takes shape as giant arches unite

The giant spidery roof that will be the architectural centerpiece of the Athens Olympics slid into position yesterday, as the second half of the steel-and-glass structure came within inches of the first one, waiting only to be bolted into place. The 17,000-ton roof that will become a symbol of the Athens Games had also been the greatest headache in recent months because of construction delays. Until the first half glided into place along special rails in mid-May there was a danger that organizers would have to abort the massive project. The government has pledged to complete the stadium by the end of June. The roof’s designer, Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, had been optimistic that the project would be ready on time. Now the area surrounding the main stadium will be landscaped, with thousands of trees and shrubs being planted. Work has already begun on installing seats. The eastern half of the roof slid into place about 24 hours after it started gliding 64 meters along specially-built rails, three weeks after the western half was moved into place. The roof, made of steel and synthetic glass panels, is some 80 meters high at the highest point and was budgeted at 130 million euros. The weight of the arches and the way they were constructed apart and then pulled together was unprecedented. The arches and their glass panels, most of which are in place, will cover most of the stadium, providing shade during the Olympics, which will be taking place under the merciless sun of August. The roof will also carry lights and cameras for security and for broadcasting the Games. Athens 2004 Organizing Committee head Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki discussed preparations with Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis yesterday. «These Games must be the Games of smiles and not of gripes and complaints,» she said afterward, in what was seen as a veiled reference to comments by Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis and Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias on the high cost of the Games. «We have to show that we are optimistic and ready,» Angelopoulos-Daskalaki added.