NEWS

Athletes’ village handed over to Olympic organizers

Greece unveiled its «jewel» of an athletes’ village yesterday, the Games’ biggest single construction project. After years of delays and several changes to architectural plans, a smiling Athens Games chief Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki received the golden key to the 2,292-apartment complex northwest of the capital. «It is not only the most spacious but the most beautiful Olympic village in the history of the Games,» Angelopoulos told reporters during a press conference on site. «This is a jewel.» The 366-building complex on 400 acres of public land at the foot of Mount Parnitha will house more than 17,000 athletes and officials and will employ 10,000. Officially it will open to national teams on July 30, two weeks before the start of the August 13-29 Olympics. Access roads from the main Olympic complex to the village have also been completed, reducing travel time to and from the stadium to about 15 minutes. This will be the first time all athletes, including the US basketball team, will stay at the Olympic Village since 1992 at Barcelona. With a population the size of a small town, the village will also feature the capital’s only places of worship for all five main religions, accommodating Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews and Hindus. Athletes will also be able to use several indoor and outdoor training facilities on site and at the nearby Dekelia airbase. «It is the first time that the athletes will be able to train so near to the place they live. It is unique,» Angelopoulos said. While construction of the village, plagued by delays after Athens won the bid in 1997, is finished, workers are still planting trees and bushes in an effort to create a lush Athens suburb by the end of the month. «Tomorrow the first national team chiefs will arrive here to finalize their accommodation arrangements. We are ready and we are the hosts of the biggest celebration,» she said. While officials were holding a brief traditional religious ceremony to inaugurate the project, hundreds of police outside were taking up positions and receiving final instructions on the village’s security plan. The remote Olympic Village will be the best-guarded venue, with police officers, snipers and secret service personnel surrounding the complex and access roads being cut off to anyone without special permits. Athenians will be able to have a peek at the buildings only after the Games. In another sign that the Games’ pace was picking up, authorities this week started minting the winners’ medals for the Games. Using 13 kilos of gold, a ton of silver and a ton of bronze, 15 experts yesterday started making the 3,000 Olympic medals to be awarded. Working around the clock they will churn out 150 medals a day, organizers said.