Sunday, June 13, 2004

Final touches proving elusive

Olympic notebook

The Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece - The city's main square is torn up. Marble tiles sit in stacks and barricades block all entrances.

Subway-bound Athenians have to step over debris, navigate cracked sidewalks and avoid clouds of dust from a bulldozer.

Just two months before the Summer Olympics, most key projects are finally done or coming together - astonishing skeptics and gratifying Greeks who banked everything on their last-minute style.

"All indications are that everything will be ready in time, even if it will be at the last moment," International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge told the Belgian newspaper Le Soir.

It's the details that could haunt the Olympic homecoming. The condition of the main Syntagma Square - and many other aspects of life in Athens - will shape the image of the games and Greece itself as it desperately seeks to breathe life into its sagging tourism industry. An untidy and unfinished cityscape would undercut attempts to showcase the modern side of this ancient land.

"We are not perfect ... but I'm sure we will manage to pleasantly surprise the world," Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyianni said. Projects such as the meddlesome roof over the main Olympic stadium, a state-of-the art village, media centers, roads, footpaths, upgraded train stations and a suburban rail have made stunning progress over the past few months.

ROGGE DRAWS IRE: Rogge was criticized Saturday for suggesting Athens might not stage the best Olympics.

Rogge made the comments in an Australian television interview that is to be broadcast today. Details were released by Australia's' Channel Nine on its Web site, and they angered Greek Olympic organizers. Asked what he would say at the end of the Olympics, Rogge said: "Well, I might start by saying that these were not the best ever Games, but ..."

Rogge has said that as IOC president he no longer will award "best ever" tags to Olympics.

After Rogge's remarks were widely reported by Greek media, the Athens Organizing Committee said he should wait until the Olympics are finished before making comments.

"President Rogge has helped a lot in the preparation of the Olympic Games. He knows, as does the public, that the success of the Games will be decided by what happens between the opening ceremony and the closing ceremony," ATHOC president Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki said in a statement.

Rogge tried to ease concerns by telling Greece's private Antenna television that his comments were not intended to be "critical" of Athens or the Olympic organizing effort.

"During the last seven years, I've always said that I believed that the organizing committee would be ready in time and that we would have very good games," Rogge said. "I have not changed my mind."

JONES WANTS TO KNOW: Triple gold medalist Marion Jones asked for the release of her sealed testimony before a federal grand jury investigating steroid use by top-level athletes.

Joseph Burton, Jones' lawyer, said the 2000 Olympic champion sprinter and long jumper wants to turn the testimony over to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which is considering whether to cite her for doping violations after bringing charges against four other runners this week. The cases might keep the athletes out of the Athens Olympics.

Jones never has failed a conventional doping test and repeatedly has denied using banned performance enhancers.

"The sworn testimony will confirm what Marion has said publicly time after time and what is confirmed by the more than 160 drug tests she has taken: She has never, ever used performance enhancing drugs," Burton said.

On Tuesday, USADA accused Jones' boyfriend and 100-meter world record-holder Tim Montgomery, world-champion sprinters Michelle Collins and Chryste Gaines, and Olympic 400-meter silver medalist Alvin Harrison of taking part "in a conspiracy to violate sport anti-doping rules."

None of that quartet failed drug tests.

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