SPORTS

Games now at ‘cruising speed’

Olympic organizers have finally hit «cruising speed» after years of tripping over their own feet, but serious obstacles still loom on the road to the Athens 2004 Olympics – including the worrisome mix of ambitious venue plans and crushing deadlines. «We want to find out whether they are able to keep that cruising speed,» said Denis Oswald, the chief International Olympic Committee (IOC) overseer of the Athens Games. «We cannot say, ‘Well, we can slow a little bit (and) it’s not a problem.’ Because if we slow down, then we won’t be ready on time,» Oswald told The Associated Press in advance of next week’s review of Athens Games preparations. Oswald will lead a six-member IOC inspection team on two-day visit beginning Monday. The brief tour should concentrate on lingering concerns: How to find enough hotel space and finish some complicated sports venues on time. Oswald said the IOC and some sports federations have urged for more modest venue plans from the Greek government, which is in charge of all Olympic construction. But the Greek plans have not been significantly scaled down, despite the time and budget pressures. The IOC recently applauded Athens for speeding up 2004 preparations after falling so far behind that it fueled speculation that the Games might be revoked from Greece. Oswald expresses faith that Athens can pull it off. But he still has pressed hard for results on some areas that could seriously mar the Olympics’ homecoming 108 years after Athens hosted the first modern Olympiad. «It will be like this until the end, because of all the time which was lost at the beginning,» Oswald told the AP on Tuesday. The IOC is worried over the timetables for the equestrian center and racetrack in the eastern suburb of Markopoulo, close to the Athens airport, and a multi-sports complex on the coast. Both are at risk of falling far behind schedule, Oswald said. The main concern, however, is the site of the former airport in the seaside suburb of Hellenikon. The location will now hold the canoe and kayak slalom center, which was moved from another area in May following objections from environmentalists and local groups. New studies and plans are needed for the venue, further delaying the start of construction. «They won’t be able to start until September of this year or even later. So this is a concern, because it’s a sport where you really need a test event and you need time after the test event to possibly make some adjustments,» Oswald said. An airplane hangar at Hellenikon, which is to be the preliminary basketball venue, also needs work to be completed faster, he said. Meanwhile, organizers must find ways to accommodate all the IOC officials, Olympic sponsors and spectators coming to Athens. Athens 2004 organizers have booked 13,000 rooms and 3,000 rooms on cruise ships to be docked in nearby Piraeus. But 3,000 more rooms are needed, said Oswald. «They can possibly convince hotels to give up some more rooms and I have the feeling that they could put a few more ships in harbor,» Oswald urged.