2004: ‘The last minute is now’

SALT LAKE CITY – Train tracks without trains. Planes landing at an old airport where construction is supposed to be underway. A desperate search for almost 3,000 hotel rooms. These were some of the problems laid out Monday in a report to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that painted Athens’s preparations for the 2004 Games as a shambles. Denis Oswald, the head of the panel overseeing preparations in the Greek capital for the International Olympic Committee, said a recent visit left him convinced the Games would be OK only if work continued at full speed. «We have a pretty hard task,» Oswald told the IOC’s general assembly. «We have to work very hard and exert constant pressure. We must praise what is done, but we can’t allow them to rest on their laurels.» The chief of the Athens organizing committee, Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, was more optimistic. But even she conceded that her committee and the Greek government had run out of spare time. «Today, we are more confident than we were before,» she told the delegates. «We have achieved a good cruising speed and are accelerating. But we are aware that time is short.» «We Greeks like to wait until the last minute. We know the last minute is now,» she said. Earlier, the IOC shelved its first formal conflict-of-interest rules, which had been adopted just two days before. The IOC has warned Athens repeatedly that it was well behind schedule. Last month, Oswald said he was pleased with organizers’ progress but distressed over government efforts in the areas of transportation and accommodations. The public report showed why. While it now appears that a new rail line will be completed in time for the Games, Oswald said, it might be too late to order rail cars. «We may have the rails but not the train,» he said. At the old Athens international airport which was supposed to be closed a month ago, construction on a slew of Olympic venues can’t begin because flights keep coming and going, and there are planes still on the runways, he said. Venue construction is also a concern at two other sites, including the area where the main Olympic stadium and the swimming pool hall will stand, Oswald said. Even the organizers’ construction charts were riddled with completion percentages in the single digits. And while organizers have locked up more than 15,000 hotel rooms, they still need about 2,800 more in a city were modern accommodations are scarce. Plans to supplement hotels with cruise ships pose other problems, Oswald said. Members also discussed how to keep the Olympic events filled with sports that people want to watch, while trying to trim the size of the Games at the same time. Franco Carraro, an Italian who chairs the commission that recommends changes in the Olympic schedule, said the goal was to hold the Summer Games to 300 medal events and 10,000 athletes. The Winter Games, with fewer events and competitors, would be more flexible.

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