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Athens Picking Up the Pace for 2004

April 06, 2002|From Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece — Staggered two years ago by mismanagement and missed deadlines, preparations for the 2004 Olympics have undergone a dramatic turnaround.

International Olympic Committee executive Denis Oswald ended a three-day inspection of facilities Friday with an encouraging update, citing improvements in construction projects and hotel space.

"I'm very happy to report today that the situation has changed tremendously," Oswald said.

But he warned against complacency.

"I think everything is still feasible," he said. "We just have a tight schedule and have to follow very closely the progress of the work."

One of Oswald's concerns during his previous visit, in January, was a shortage of 2,800 hotel rooms. Athens Olympics organizers said they have booked half that number of rooms for sports federations officials and sponsors.

Oswald said intense work must continue at delayed venues such as the sailing center and a complex that will house boxing, taekwondo and handball. The sailing center is scheduled to have the first Olympic test event in August.

He praised Premier Costas Simitis for taking control and pressuring often disorganized government officials to slash through bureaucracy.

"The progress in construction is both obvious and encouraging, as is the new level of collaboration achieved among the organizers," Oswald said.

In a document obtained by the Associated Press, Athens organizers told the IOC there has been an "intensification of cooperation" with the government.

The organizers also expressed "overall satisfaction" with transportation projects to ease traffic in Athens, where a rush-hour trip of six miles can take an hour.

But security and Athens' notorious traffic "will be a concern till the end," Oswald told reporters, and he appealed for the government not to scale back roadwork.

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