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Greece lightning

Athens Olympics Progress

With just over a year until the Olympic torch is lit in Athens, Greek contractors have entered a nail biting race to finish work in time. Adrian Greeman reports.

Early tourists to Athens this summer were confronted with a huge aerial photograph of two parallel sided lakes, like water filled aircraft runways. It featured on billboards, site hoardings, and posters in the metro.

This is Schinias, the 2.3km long Olympic rowing competition lake and its smaller practice area. It is the first major delivery of the sports infrastructure needed by August 2004, and Greece's only concrete evidence to date that the Games really will go ahead.

All around Athens construction workers are busy building or renovating facilities, and creating and upgrading the infrastructure needed to house or move the sportsmen, journalists, cameramen and spectators who will flock to the capital city.

But a freakishly bad winter this year, with heavy rainfall until May in some areas, has combined with last minute action. National pride will be boosted as other schemes start coming through this year. The buzz of activity is peaking late and many projects are likely to be delivered just in time for the opening of the Games.

Tightest of all perhaps will be the main stadium itself, with a complex roof structure to complete over the next winter (see below). Handover date to the Athens 2004 Organising Committee (ATHOC), which fits out facilities and organises the events, is 30 May, six weeks before the opening ceremony.

Even though a programme of test events is beginning, many venues - including the main Olympic Athletics Centre for Athens (OACA) - will not see run throughs until next summer, leaving little time to sort out glitches.

Yet the International Olympics Committee (IOC), which expressed major reservations over progress two years ago, is much more positive now. After recent discussions with ATHOC, chairman of the IOC Co-ordination Commission Denis Oswald described progress as 'very significant' and anticipated an 'excellent Games', although he did warn that some projects had 'extremely tight schedules'.

To discover how tight the schedules actually are requires some trawling. The multilingual information team at ATHOC is 'not responsible for construction': enquiries must go to the ministries and public bodies involved. The Ministry of Culture is calmly confident and spokesman Kagel Angelopolous says estimated completions are falling in between its early and late target graph lines. A wide variety of facilities are under way across the Athens Attica region and elsewhere. Four football stadiums are the main regional facilities - in progress in southern Crete, western Patras, Thessalonika in the north, and Volos in central Greece.

'We are doing our job, trying to be efficient and creating fine quality construction while paying attention to our past civilisation, ' reassures Nassos Alevras, deputy minister for Olympic projects. He says most projects are 65% or more complete. The many general infrastructure projects which other ministries have re-scheduled to help service the Games are in a similar position.

SITE SAFETY: European sites have no legal requirement to wear hard hats, although a risk assessment must have been performed to show it is unnecessary. A risk assessment must also be carried out before erectors walk on steel. The use of a harness, although acceptable, is a last resort after prefabrication and access platforms. Enforcement of regulations varies from country to country.

Racing towards the finishing line

Most complex works for the Games are at the Olympic Athletics Centre for Athens (OACA), where the existing 80,000 seat outdoor main stadium is to be given a spectacular new cable stayed roof designed by the famous Spanish architect/ engineer Santiago Calatrava. A second smaller structure will cover the velodrome on the opposite side of the area and Calatrava has also developed a master plan to remodel the central complex. An adjoining sixteen court tennis facility and renovation of basketball courts and swimming pools fall under other contracts.

Engineers from German consultancy Bung (Hellas), which is working with local firm Istra as project manager for most of the sports venues and the press facilities, say contracts for the centre are proceeding well.

Their only worries, they admit informally, are for the stadium roof itself which will finish only days before events begin.

Calatrava's design features a pair of huge double steel arches, springing from foundations 304m apart at the ends and on axes 140m apart. The larger, outer arches will be 80m high, while the inner arches are flatter, with steel beams projecting on either side along their length, like giant fishbones. Cable stays will link beam ends to the upper arch and will support glazing for a total 24,000m 2ofsolar glass, says Bung (Hellas) project manager Evangelos Lazaris. Total roof width will be 206.7m.

The roof is being fabricated in two halves on hefty steel towers on one side of the stadium. Once completed the towers will be jacked along concrete tracks into position. First of the huge 3.6m diameter, 60mm thick tubes for the stadium roof arrived on site in July from Italian steel fabricator and erector Cimolai.

'There is a complex sequence to lift the 124 tube sections onto the frames and butt weld them, ' says Lazaris.

Main contractor for the main stadium roof is Greece's biggest contractor Aktor.

Under a 171M ($192M) works package Aktor is also delivering the velodrome roof - a steel structure with a central steel arch and two cable stayed side arches - and a curved, glazed, covered walkway along the central axis of the complex. This is to be known as the Agora, with most of the retail and visitor facilities, and a glazed entrance area.

Calatrava's overall Olympic concept includes a 157m high steel tower which will hold the Olympic flame. A hinged base will enable it to be tilted down to a ramp for lighting when the torch arrives. There is also a 250m long steel and concrete curtain, the 20m high 'Nations Wall' which will act as a giant projection screen for images. Contracts for both of these are still pending.

The main stadium is undergoing a $17M internal renovation, with a general revamp of the complex carried out under a separate $90M contract.

There is also a major project to rebuild the 16 court tennis complex adjoining the OACA, including construction of a new centre court. A new synchronised swimming pool must be built and two existing pools renovated.

Meanwhile, the $382M Olympic Village is doing well. Its four contractors hit a July target for handover of the international residential zone one month early. German contractor Obermeyer, project managing the scheme, is particularly pleased with the response to a set of carrot-and-stick bonuses and penalties it instigated, as most other Olympic-related projects are two or three months behind original schedules. The whole project, with 2,300 apartment blocks to house 16,500 athletes and trainers, is due to be handed over early next year.

Getting around

Vital transport projects include an Olympic ring road for Athens, whose postwar urban sprawl is notorious for congestion. The first part of this, linking the new airport at Spata to the west of the city, uses a section of the Attica Odos motorway. This is a private finance scheme opened two years ago and already a major boon according to many Athenians. Three other sections of the mainly dual three lane ring road are under construction by a variety of contractors with completion dates between February and July next year. The road will create a cross shaped spine for the city and, because the city is bounded by steep hills, is the nearest Athens can get to a ring motorway.

Another important road serves the historic town of Marathon, which will have a special place in these Olympic Games as the start for the eponymous long distance race. There is also a new link to the nearby Schinias rowing centre which is 47km from the Olympic village.

Other upgrades include widening all the roads around the OACA stadium complex, connections to the Markopolou equestrian and shooting centre and, particularly important, a dual two lane highway to link the Olympic village to the main ring road and the route to the stadium.

Athens' three year old metro system will be important for the Games and a programme of extensions is under way, the most significant adding a 5.8km leg to line three from its Ethniki Amyma end point.

Tunnelling for this $622M extension has gone well, says client Attiko Metro, and two new stations near the end are almost complete. A short end section being built by NATM in soft ground has suffered a delay, however, following a collapse which is being investigated. Planned repairs are imminent, and when complete the line will reach the line of the Attica Odos motorway, providing an interchange with buses and a suburban rail line. The latter will run along the route of the motorway in a dedicated central reservation, already built. Greece's rail infrastructure company Erga Ose will shortly lay tracks as far as the airport, 20.7km further on, creating a high speed link.

Erga Ose's suburban trains will run further on around Athens in the motorway reservation and will also tie in with a wider rail network improvement. The aim is to create a regional rail system in time for the Games, allowing Olympic visitors to stay well outside the city.

Erga Ose's work includes a new twin track 250km/h rail line from Athens to Corinth, and line improvements northwards on the main Thessalonika line. Critical elements for the Corinth line include completion of the three tunnel and viaduct Kakia Skala project, now 90% complete, and a new bridge over the Corinth canal. Work on this 230m long post-tensioned box superstructure is due to end in March and track laying and signalling for the whole line must be ready by August.

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