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IOC pays tribute to Greek organizers

Posted: Sunday August 8, 2004 10:16PM; Updated: Sunday August 8, 2004 10:16PM
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ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Five days before the opening ceremony, international Olympic officials praised Greek organizers Sunday for overcoming years of delays and delivering all projects in time for the Athens Games.

Athens officials, who had faced a frantic race against the clock to meet tight deadlines, reported to the International Olympic Committee executive board on the state of preparations for the Aug. 13-29 games.

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"The IOC is pleased with the progress and glad to see the promises made by the organizers have been kept," IOC president Jacques Rogge said. "They have delivered in due time. It is for us a great satisfaction. We feel these games will be very, very good."

Denis Oswald, the IOC executive who has overseen the Athens preparations, said he was "positively surprised" that Greece had managed to get everything done.

"What they have achieved is absolutely fantastic," he said in an interview. "You could only dream of that state of preparations a year ago. There is no single project essential for the games that is missing."

Only some "fine tuning and final touches" remain, Oswald said.

"We always had confidence they would be able to complete most of the things they promised," he said. "But now everything is in place."

Athens was awarded the Olympics in 1997. Three years later, then-IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch warned the games were in jeopardy because of chronic delays and political squabbling. He called it the worst organizational crisis in his career.

As recently as two months ago, the IOC was worried that a number of venues and projects -- from the main Olympic Stadium to a new tram, metro and suburban rail network -- would not be completed in time. But those concerns have now been put aside.

"We have five days left until the cauldron is lit at the Olympic Stadium, and we are ready," Athens chief organizer Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki said in her report to the IOC board. "Our venues are ready. The Athens 2004 people are ready. The tram, the metro, the light rail and the Olympic lanes are up and running. The athletes of the world are training in our venues."

With Greece spending a record US$1.5 billion on safeguarding the games, Angelopoulos-Daskalaki said Athens had implemented "the most comprehensive, best-staffed and best-funded security operation in the history of the Olympic Games."

Ticket sales in Greece have been sluggish, but Rogge said the pace was picking up day by day.

"I'm not concerned," he said. "All my Greek friends say there is a tradition of buying tickets at the last moment and they expect the venues to be full."

While Greece has managed to finish preparations, Rogge warned that organizers of the next Olympics -- the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy -- need to speed up their work.

"We asked them to accelerate a little bit their preparations," he said. "We're sure our Italian friends will deliver but a sense of urgency is needed."

Rogge cited the "eternal issue of timely completion of venues and infrastructure," and the need to better promote the games across the country.

"We feel that entire Italy is not embracing the games," he said.

On other issues, Rogge was asked twice whether it was fair that U.S. athletes who have been accused of doping, such as Marion Jones, will be allowed to compete at the Athens Games. He said the IOC had no right to ban athletes who have been cleared to compete by their national Olympic committee and the international federation of their sport.

Jones is being investigated by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency but has not been charged. She repeatedly has denied using any performance-enhancing substance.

"We know there is a question mark on certain athletes," Rogge said, "but as long as there is no proof of guilt, the athlete is eligible. It is not for the IOC to make a judgment on potential doping cases that did not happen."

The IOC later can act if a doping violation has been found, Rogge said.

"We will have to wait for results and proper action will be taken after the games if that is necessary," he said.

The IOC board completed its meeting in 1 1/2 days. The full IOC _ which numbers 124 members -- begins a three-day general assembly on Tuesday.

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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