Friday, June 11, 2004

Stadium track in Athens gets 1st test

The Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece - From the air, the long-awaited Olympic stadium looks like a butterfly. From the ground, it seems to need a little more time in its cocoon.

The unfinished centerpiece of the Athens Games got its first test Thursday, hosting the Greek track and field championships as bulldozers and cranes continued preparing the site for the Summer Olympics that begin in two months. With construction workers in hard hats peering down from the ballyhooed steel-and-glass roof and a handful of spectators sitting on pipes destined to become prime seats, the stadium hosted its first - and only - event before the Aug. 13-29 Olympics.

But the nine-lane track is in great shape, one of the two scoreboards is working and few athletes seemed bothered by the commotion surrounding the track.

"I'm very impressed. It's almost done," said Ekaterini Thanou, the defending Olympic silver medalist in the women's 100 meters.

Organizers will use the three-day championships as a way to test the 75,000-seat stadium that will host the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies as well as track and field events. It will be a run-through for 700 volunteers, as well as police and other security personnel.

The two arches of the massive roof, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, are in place and many of the glass panels have been installed. Mired in delays that at one point led Olympic officials to consider eliminating the roof, it soars gracefully above the stadium.

The roof is part of a massive remodeling of the stadium for the Olympics. The total price tag for work on the main Olympic complex was more than $250 million.

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