Olympic plans `still on target'

 

ONE HUNDRED days before the centennial Olympics open in Atlanta, Georgia, organisers said they are confident that financial, construction and security problems will be solved before the Games begin.

Tomorrow will mark 100 days before the start of the 100th anniversary Olympics. Construction at most venues remains incomplete. Money remains tight under a break even budget and security is always a concern.

"While we have a lot to do, it was never supposed to be done until the final 100 days," said Billy Payne, chairman of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG).

"I don't want to understate the enormity of it, but there are no time pressures. In every case there are deadlines, and we're right on schedule."

Still, after six years of planning and preparation the tension is great as the deadline approaches.

"This will be one of the most intense, nerve wracking but wonderful times in all of our lives," Payne said. "This will be the most important peacetime event of the 20th Century, watched by more people than any other event in the history of the world."

Construction workers have been putting in overtime to offset lost days after an unusually brutal winter slowed $600 million worth of projects. Twelve venues being built for the Games will be completed in the next few weeks and 20 more must be adapted for the Olympics.

Construction woes have plagued the organisers since a light tower fell at the $230 million Olympic Stadium, killing a worker. Two heavy support beams at the $21 million Olympic pool toppled minutes after they were installed.

"We have had two accidents over $600 million of construction," Payne pointed out.

The Centennial Olympic Park where people are expected to gather remains far from finished, needing helicopters to help dry it after rain so workers could get back on schedule.

Then there is money. ACOG must still raise $200 million of its $1.7 billion budget. Ticket and souvenir sales are expected to produce enough revenue to cover the bills.

"All along we have been told by Atlanta that their revenue forecast is solid and that if it looks like, for some reason, they are not going to make it, they will cut what they have to cut," said Dick Pound, the Canadian chairman of the International Olympic Committee review panel.

Pound's group makes a final visit to Atlanta next month to make certain everything is set for the arrival of competitors from a record 197 nations.

"By that time, they should be into virtually every venue or have their plans for all the internal stuff ready to go," Pound said.

Security officials are preparing for next week's three day drill, one final effort to make certain all anti terrorist plans are in place and working well.

The deaths of 11 Israeli athletes in Munich in 1972 at the hands of Arab terrorists are on the minds of all Olympic security officials. But also in mind is last year's bombing of a US government building in Oklahoma City.

"Things are very much on track," said Bill Rathburn, ACOG's security chief. "There are still things to be done. We still have more than 100 days. I am confident we will be ready."

ACOG officials must also assemble a volunteer staff of 40,000 people from barely 45,000 applicants, guard the secrets of the opening ceremony as rehearsals begin and monitor the journey of the Olympic flame from Athens to Atlanta. That trek includes a 15,000 mile relay from Los Angeles to Atlanta, the longest torch run in Games history.