ATHENS, Greece — An olive grove stands in the western suburb of Ano Liosia, a few dozen sheep grazing amid the trees.
The only thing stirring--besides the sheep--is an overpowering stench from Athens' main landfill, when the wind is right.
No bulldozers. No trucks hauling away loads of dirt. No hard-hatted construction crews.
The olive grove is the site of the 8,000-seat wrestling pavilion for the 2004 Olympics. Construction was supposed to have started Thursday.
The only trucks to be seen are in a nearby junkyard, dumping the hulks of rusty cars. The only evidence of sports is about a half-mile away, where children kick a ball through a dusty trailer park housing victims of a 1999 earthquake.
The wrestling arena is one of several key Olympic venues that remain stranded on the drawing board. So instead of steel girders, the only thing rising here is frustration.
The International Olympic Committee, which hammered Athens over delays a year ago, is again sounding the alarm. Even the head of the Greek organizing committee is demanding the government do something about the lumbering bureaucracy.
"It is the paralysis of the system that worries us," said Athens committee president Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki.
Bringing the Olympics back to Athens began as a noble -- and highly marketable -- endeavor that united the IOC and the political leadership in the ancient birthplace of the games. But it now it seems more like a clash of cultures.
Greece's Socialist government, which has control of all Olympic construction projects, is deeply rooted in what its critics call an outmoded state-knows-best mentality. Its highly centralized practices and entrenched cronyism appear at odds with the speed and agility demanded by the IOC.
The IOC wants to see bulldozers. And the government holds another meeting.
The IOC says there's no room for delays with some projects, including the Olympic Village, already months behind schedule. All it sees is more political bickering.
"We're the country that gave birth to Olympic truce, but we're constantly fighting in our attempt to organize the games," opposition leader Costas Caramanlis said Wednesday.
Critics interpret the problems of coping with the games as part of a broader ailment of government exhaustion and disorganization after being in power for 17 of the past 20 years.
"Projects for the 2004 Olympics are, indisputably, plagued by serious and worrisome delays," complained an editorial in the respected Kathimerini newspaper. "What time is left is frittered away."
Even Premier Costas Simitis admits that Greeks shouldn't be too surprised.
"Greece was always far behind--just like we don't have roadways, just like we don't have trains, just as in many sectors we are behind," Simitis told parliament recently. "We shouldn't be surprised when we discover what Greece is. This is Greece."
Admitting Greece's faults is not enough for Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, who led Athens' bid effort and was put back in charge last year. She has told the government to start behaving like "private industry" or risk international embarrassment.
Jacques Rogge, the IOC member overseeing Athens' preparations, would be happy at this point just to see a little digging. He expects some construction to be under way before his next inspection visit in May.
"We want buildings to start coming out of the ground," Rogge lectured after a two-day review last month.
The immediate goal is to have work under way at three sites: the wrestling pavilion, a gymnastics stadium and a weightlifting hall. Other projects, such as the Olympic Village and equestrian center, are behind schedule but not yet at the crisis stage.
Meanwhile, environmental groups refuse to abandon their longshot opposition to a rowing center on coastal wetlands north of Athens.
The constant attention to construction troubles also could deflect attention from other crucial issues, such as anti-terrorism measures and ways to cope with Athens' monumental traffic problems.
But Rogge and other IOC officials say they are not shopping around for a savior city. The games, they insist, will not be taken away from Athens, which held the first modern Olympiad in 1896.
So other tactics are being used.
Rogge has aimed directly at Greece's most vulnerable spot: national pride. He suggested that inadequate venues and shoddy services could mar the return of the Olympiad to its native soil.
At one time--back when it was awarded the games in 1997--Athens appeared to be in an enviable position. About 70 percent of the necessary sports facilities, including the main stadium, were already in place.
But the mood quickly faded. A clock outside the Olympic stadium counts down the days until the Aug. 13, 2004, opening ceremony.
The diminishing number--now under 1,300 days--reinforces Angelopoulos-Daskalaki's mantra: Athens organizers have to run a marathon at a sprinter's pace.
So far, however, they're having trouble breaking a sweat.