Athens will be ready on time, official says

The Greek government is «100 percent sure» that everything will be ready for the Olympic Games which start in 100 days’ time, despite mounting fears about building delays and security. Speaking before three early morning blasts hit an Athens police station yesterday, the head of the Culture Ministry in charge of the Games, Spyros Kapralos, told AFP that preparations were completely on track. The government was «100 percent sure that everything will be ready in time» ahead of the August 13 opening ceremony in the Greek capital, he said, and urged vocal critics of delays in the preparations to «keep everything in perspective.» Among the main concerns has been the work on the roof of the main Olympic stadium designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, which has already been hit by several delays despite its tight timetable. Roof set to slide Most worrying is the work on two giant steel arches weighing thousands of tons and spanning 300 meters (1,000 feet) due to support the revamped stadium’s glass-and-steel roof. Work had been due to start on April 28. «It is a difficult project but we now see that it is getting ready for the sliding. Two out of the 12 arches temporarily supporting them have been removed. The last two will be removed this week and then the sliding will begin,» Kapralos said. He also said it was a mistake to play up a delay of a few days to the roof, as contractors had used the time to advance on other areas of the construction work. «Most of the track has now been installed and the areas built for the opening and closing ceremonies have been recovered.» He also offered reassurances about work on two other Olympic projects which had extremely tight deadlines, the road linking the ancient city of Marathon to Athens and the football stadium in Kaftanzoglio, Thessaloniki. The road to Marathon, delayed after the contractor went bust, did not «present a major threat to the Games,» said Kapralos. The road due to be finished on July 10 will be used for running the marathon events, as well as for linking the press village to where the rowing events will be held at Schinias. As for the Karaiskaki football stadium, which has proved a nightmare for Greek officials, Kapralos admitted it was the project most at risk out of all the construction works under way because «we had to destroy an old stadium and build a new one in a year.» But he said the work, which had been handed over to a private company, would be completed in record time. He called for understanding, saying that even though Athens had won the right to host the 2004 Summer Olympics as long ago as 1997, they did not really start preparations until three years later. «In four years, we have achieved what it took other countries seven years to do,» he said, adding that Greece’s investment in huge infrastructure works was «larger than for the last two Olympics combined.» Star torchbearers Away from delays and security, organizers said yesterday that star athletes and famous actors will be among the torchbearers when the Olympic Flame for Athens makes its unprecedented round-the-world journey. Australia’s 400-meter Olympic champion Cathy Freeman will carry the torch at the start of the relay in Sydney on June 4. Later in Brazil – in the flame’s first appearance in South America – the torch will be carried by soccer stars such as Pele, Ronaldo and Zico. In the United States, the torch will be carried by NBA legend Magic Johnson, Olympic gold medalists Gail Devers, Michael Johnson, Carl Lewis and Edwin Moses, as well as by actress Jennifer Aniston, who is of Greek descent. The flame was lit at Ancient Olympia on March 25 and was brought to Athens’s marble stadium, where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896. It will burn at the stadium until June 4, when it starts a 78,000-kilometer (46,800-mile) global journey across six continents, 27 countries and 33 cities with some 11,000 runners. The 78-day itinerary includes groundbreaking African stops in Cairo, Egypt and Cape Town, South Africa, and a first South American appearance in Rio de Janeiro. Other stops include the war-divided island of Cyprus and Istanbul, Turkey, in the latest overture by Greece to heal traditional rivalries. All past Summer Olympic cities are on the list – as well as the 2008 host Beijing. In the United States, the torch relay will take in Los Angeles, St Louis and Atlanta. The flame is also scheduled to pass through New York, where many expect some commemoration linked to Ground Zero. The torch relay returns to Greece on July 9 for the second half of its domestic relay. Hollywood star Angelina Jolie will carry the Olympic torch during one of the final stages of the relay. Jolie will run with the torch the day before the start of the August 13-29 Olympics. (AFP, AP)

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