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Athens on course to hit all targets

Arthur Spiegelman | August 10, 2004 18:58 IST

With ticket sales suddenly swelling to a rate of 85,000 a day, organisers of the Athens Olympics said on Tuesday that their marathon preparations had paid off and they were hitting all their targets.

Meanwhile, hundreds of competitors poured into the city, shrugging off fears of terrorist attack, saying that they, too, were ready for the Games to begin.

Among them was fresh-faced Australian swimmer Lisbeth Lenton who burst into tears at her first sight of the Olympic pool. "But they were tears of joy," the 19-year-old competing in her first Olympics Games said.

One highlight of the 28th Games is expected to be the battle between the United States and Australia in swimming but the Australian athletes insisted at a news conference that all the competitors in swimming were good.

Few Olympics have produced as much worry as the Games return to the land of its birth with dire predictions that a Greek tragedy was in the offing.

With opening day in only three days, though, officials say they are no longer worried about such things as poor attendance, half-finished stadia or lax security.

They say everything is ready and that the country's seven-year-long Olympic marathon since winning the bid in 1997 has been completed with a fantastic burst of energy at the end.

TICKETS PLEASE

Marton Simitsek, chief operating officer of the Athens Olympics, said that more than three million tickets had been sold so far and that organisers were confident of reaching their goal of five million tickets.

The pace of sales has escalated to 85,000 a day, he added. One Olympic volunteer explained it this way: "We Greeks are ready to see anything."

Athens Olympics chief Gianna Angelopoulos predicted that the Games would transform Greece into an "A-class" nation and therefore worth the six billion euro overall cost to the country of staging them.

Other officials declared their confidence that everything had been done to ensure that the Games are safe from a terrorist attack -- from having soldiers at every venue site, police on every street corner in the city centre and a giant blimp working the skies with equipment able to detect chemical weapons on the ground.

"We have taken all possible measures with the cooperation of friendly and allied countries. We have done what is humanly possible so that all athletes and visitors feel safe," Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said in a national television address.

His message was that the spirit of Olympic sportsmanship will be conducted under conditions of maximum security.

With several athletics being barred from the Games after testing positive for drug use, International Olympic Committee chief Jacques Rogge declared that this would be the cleanest Games ever.

The International Olympic Committee on Tuesday reiterated its "no tolerance" stand on doping and corruption in sport.

"Unethical behaviour of some individuals should not reflect on the whole organisation," Rogge told his 120-plus members ahead of the August 13-29 Olympics.

But he acknowledged: "No organisation is perfect." On Saturday, Bulgarian IOC member Ivan Slavkov was suspended following allegations of corruption in a television documentary broadcast last week.

LOVERS' QUARREL

A lovers' quarrel apparently prompted a Greek team member and her boyfriend to try to commit suicide within three days of each other from the same balcony, police said.

Giorgos Chrisostomidis, 24, is suspected of leaping on Monday from the same balcony that his girlfriend and judo competitor Eleni Ioannou jumped from after an argument on Saturday. Both were still fighting for their lives on Tuesday.

Whether they win or lose, Iraq's soccer players say they are happy to be in Athens and that their performance is improving dramatically because they no longer are beaten for every missed shot on goal.

"Before, if you made a mistake or if you lost, you got punished," Tiras Odisho Anwaya, Iraq's Olympic committee director-general, said.

"Now a player can make decisions, he can play as he wants to, he can shoot at the goal and miss without feeling under threat."

When the team was run by Uday Hussein, the son of Iraq's former dictator, members of the national soccer side were often beaten or locked up for days following defeats.


Athens 2004: The Complete Coverage

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