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Greece starts 100-day sprint as Games loom
Updated: 2004-05-05 16:29

Greece starts a 100-day sprint on Wednesday to the opening ceremony of the Athens Olympics still without a roof over the main stadium and weighed down by crushing and expensive security demands.

Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyannis addresses a press conference in Paris where she attended a ceremony marking 100 days prior to the opening of the Athens Olympic Games, May 3, 2004. Bakoyannis said that Athens was '90% ready for the Olympics.' [Reuters]
Organizers, frantically rushing to complete building with just over three months to go to the August 13 start, insist that despite years of delays, the Greek capital will be ready.

"We will stage extraordinary, safe and successful Olympics," deputy culture minister in charge of the Games, Fani Palli-Petralia, told Reuters Tuesday. "We are working triple shifts everywhere and we will be ready."

Petralia disclosed that the government had increased the Games security budget to one billion euros ($1.21 billion), up by more than 50 percent from the 650 million euros ($785 million) announced last October.

The hike is due to growing international concerns over safety at what will be the first summer Games since the September 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. cities.

On the construction front, organizers got a thumbs-up from the International Olympic Committee Tuesday.

"All the reports I receive indicate how fast and how hard Greece is working to complete preparations," IOC president Jacques Rogge said. "As we enter the final stretch together, most of the preparations are already complete."

Games chief Gianna Angelopoulos told Reuters: "We believe the Athens Games will be symbolic because this is the country where they were born, where they were revived, and this is the country where the athletes decided to put down their arms during the Games so I think its a strong message going out."

But a lot still needs to be done before August 13.

Of 39 key Olympic installations, organizers have so far completed construction work on only 18 projects.

Most others are near completion but with much-needed landscaping still to be done and key transport projects still under construction, Games organizers have their work cut out.


A new suburban railroad and tram line linking the city with the international airport and the southern coastline are far from ready although the government has pledged they will be delivered by the end of June.

But the biggest concern remains the steel dome above the main Olympic stadium, which organizers hope will become the Games architectural trademark. Two huge steel arches that will carry the 18,000-ton roof are still not in place and organizers have repeatedly postponed the final assembly date, which is now set for the weekend.

The IOC has warned if the arches are not in position by May 20, the roof, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, must be scrapped.

Petralia said: "We are turning nightime into day and I am convinced the project will be ready and will be magnificent."

Greece is also fighting a public relations war after growing global security concerns prompted a flood of international media reports questioning the Games plans.

U.S., British and Australian media have harshly criticized security arrangements, saying that venues are currently left unguarded and overall safety plans have been compromised due to ongoing construction.

Despite putting together the most expensive security plan in Olympics history and deploying three times as many guards as in Sydney four years ago, organizers have so far failed to ease international safety concerns.

Greece will mobilize half of its military and security forces during the Games, putting more than 45,000 armed guards on the capital's streets.

Organizers have also called on NATO to assist with air and sea patrols and a seven-nation Olympics advisory group comprising countries with extensive security experience has been set up.

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