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Athens Olympic Stadium closes for refurbishments

Twenty years have passed since the opening of the Athens Olympic Stadium to host the European Athletics Championships, in September 1982. Monday night, shortly after the last event of the Athens IAAF Grand Prix, the gates of the stadium were closed and no athletics contests will be held there until the test events prior to the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. The stadium, which now has the name of Spyros Louis in honor of the Olympic Greek marathon winner in 1896, will undergo a monumental refurbishing including a permanent cover above the stands designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. A spokesman for the Athens Olympics Organizing Committee (ATHOC) told AFP that the refurbishing of the 76,000-seat venue would last 18 to 20 months and cost 217.1 million euros ($205.4 million). The construction work at the stadium forced Greek first-division soccer champions Olympiakos to find a new base for the next two years. They will be playing their home league matches at the Apollon Athens Stadium and Champions League matches will be hosted elsewhere. The Greek athletics federation SEGAS will be forced to schedule major athletics contests at other stadiums, while preparations by Greek athletes will also be a problem as training facilities near the Olympic Stadium will also be refurbished. But a spokesman for SEGAS said the athletes would be pleased when the construction work ends, as they will have top facilities, something that has been lacking in the last few years. SEGAS said that by the end of August the new training facilities at the Athens seaside complex of Aghios Cosmas should be ready for the Greek athletes. Along with the stadium, refurbishing work is also being done at the already existing indoor stadium, tennis center, swimming center and cycling track. The indoor stadium, which will host the basketball finals, seats 19,000, while the tennis center currently seats 6,000 but when the revamping is over will seat 8,000 spectators. The swimming center will be expanded from the current 2,500-seat capacity to 6,000 seats, with the cycling track to remain at 5,000 seats. (AFP)