Fine line between 'ready' and 'done'
By STEVE BUFFERY, TORONTO SUN
Dave Bedford, who will be the Canadian team chef de mission at this summer's Athens Olympics, recently returned from his third trip to the Greek capital and, well, put it this way: Three times is not always a charm. Bedford and the small Canadian delegation, which included medical and law enforcement representatives, were left with the impression that, despite what the Games organizers have promised, some venues will not be ready when the Olympics begin on Aug. 13.
"But what I've been saying is, there is a difference between being ready and being done," Bedford said this week from his office at IMG Toronto. "I think a number of venues probably won't be done. However, I expect they'll be ready enough for athletes to compete."
Games organizers are scrambling to complete the various sporting venues in time for the Games and many are not close to be completed. For instance, the Olympic stadium still is without the 16,000-ton glass and steel dome and the athletics track has yet to be laid. Organizers have vowed that the main stadium be complete by July 20, three weeks before the Games are to begin.
The roof over the aquatic centre has yet to be constructed, the soccer stadiums are in various stages of disrepair and completion, the tram line linking central Athens with a major season Olympic sports complex is still a work in progress ... and on and on and on.
"The marathon route is what I'm most worried about," Bedford said. "From the last time I was there in August (2003) to our most recent visit (in January), I saw absolutely no progress."
The marathon will follow part of the original route run by the messenger Phidippides in 490 BC, but the road needs repaving and landscaping. The job was given to a new contractor on March 10 and is not scheduled to be finished until June 15 -- everything goes according to plan.
Bedford, who was the assistant press chief for the Canadian Olympic Committee at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, said Games organizers scrambling to finish venues in the months leading up to the competition is nothing new. But there is one major difference between Athens and Atlanta or Nagano.
"At other Games, there's often one venue they're worried about. In Athens, there are multiple things," he said.
With that in mind, Bedford and his mission team will make sure that Canadian athletes, coaches and officials will be prepared to compete at facilities that may not be up to snuff.
"There will be the same distractions for everybody and if somebody is prepared to use that as an excuse (for a poor performance) then it will become an excuse," he said.
Athens organizers have conceded that many of the pre-Olympic test events in the coming months will take place with work crews still on site. A major concern with the late completion of many of the venues is that there will be no room for major adjustments if needed.
That's what test events are for -- to give the athletes and officials a test run at the various venues and if there are problems, changes are made.
Bedford said he was struck by two things during his visit to Athens in January. One was the preparation, or lack thereof. The other was the genuine enthusiasm for the Games by the citizens. The first modern Games was held in 1896 in Athens and the Olympics and Greece will be forever linked.
"It's huge, what this means to Greece and Athens," Bedford said. "It's part of their heritage and part of who they are. It's hard to explain. There's a special spirit about it."