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Workers in a race to the finish

Associated Press
Published May 30, 2004

ATHENS, Greece - The Olympics could be a showcase for the latest in telecommunications technology. Then again, it could be a mess.

The Hellenic Telecommunications Organization, a major Olympic sponsor that is also the sole supplier for the communications, says all the wires and fiber-optic cables will be in place to broadcast the Aug. 13-29 Games to an estimated 4-billion people worldwide.

That would be quite an accomplishment in a country where the telecommunications network was so poor a decade ago it often took months just to install a telephone line.

But there are reports that the telecommunications company, known as OTE, has experienced setbacks and delays in its rush to finish the central electronic nervous system that Athens will need for the Olympics.

The Kathimerini newspaper recently published a confidential OTE memorandum that said the company, in which the state has 33 percent ownership, had finished only about half of the projects needed for the Games by the end of March.

"The situation is critical, and the danger of Olympic Games projects not being prepared on time is visible," the memo said.

OTE, which is spending about $372-million to sponsor and improve Greece's telecommunications infrastructure, acknowledged there were some delays. But it said everything will be ready by June.

The company attributed some of the delays to a failure by the former Socialist government to finish and deliver numerous venues on time.

"Everything will be ready on schedule," OTE spokeswoman Elpida Troizi said. "They will be ready in June."

Construction delays have been a major problem for years. Last week, the final deck of a giant suspension bridge that will provide a route for the Olympic torch to make Athens was finally positioned.

KEEP THE PRICES DOWN: Greece is busting its budget to host the Olympics. There are fears the same could happen to those coming to Athens. Rising oil prices have jump-started Greek inflation, which some analysts believe could hit about 4.5 percent. The development minister, Yiannis Papathanassiou, has tried to get retailers and other merchant groups to agree to hold down prices during the Games.

But the appeal could be a hard sell in a free market. There's also the prevailing belief that the Olympics could be a rare opportunity to cash in with tourism to Greece on the decline.

PRESIDENTIAL POWER: Plans by former President George Bush to visit Athens is being hailed by Greek organizers as a major plug for the city's security effort.

"I am very confident the Olympics will be successful and safe," Greek Premier Costas Caramanlis said. "After all, what better vote of confidence can you have than a (U.S.) president sending a former president, who is also his father, to the Games?"

Caramanlis met May 20 with the current White House occupant, George W. Bush. The elder Bush often takes summer vacations in Greece aboard the yacht of the Latsis shipping family.

PENTATHLON: Szuzsanna Voros of Hungary won her second straight world title in the modern pentathlon in Moscow. She finished with 5,624 points and was followed by Sydney Olympics bronze medalist Kate Allenby of Britain at 5,572. Allenby won the bronze at the worlds last season.

Tatsiana Mazurkevich of Belarus was third at 5,492 and qualified for the Olympics. Voros and Allenby qualified previously.

Three more of the top-nine finishers claimed spots in Athens: Sylwia Czwojdzinska of Poland, Federica Forhetti of Italy and Kazakhstan's Lada Jeinbalanova.

Eighteen athletes had qualified, and 10 spots will be decided on world rankings.

SHOOTING: Koby Holland and Adam Saathoff held the top two spots after the second day of competition in the running target at the U.S. trials in Fort Benning, Ga.

Holland shot 672, putting him in first place with a score of 1,343.3. Saathoff, a two-time Olympian in this event, hit 677.8. Both are in position to make the Olympics with one round remaining.

VOLLEYBALL: France won a berth in the men's tournament after defeating Japan in a qualifier in Tokyo. France (6-0) won 25-23, 21-25, 25-18, 21-25, 15-12. Until this match, France hadn't dropped a set in the tournament.

Eight nations are competing in the seven-day, round-robin event. The overall winner and the best Asian team gain berths.

WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: Lisa Leslie is paying close attention to security while getting ready to play in her third Olympics.

"It's definitely a concern," Leslie said of possible terrorist attacks. "When I get to that point when it's time to go and I don't feel safe, I'm not going to go. But I think that our country will definitely make a decision based on whether it's safe for us to go prior to that point."

With four gold medals from Olympics and World Games, Leslie is no stranger to international travel and knows security will be very tight.

Still, she's feeling uneasy.

"It's just going to be a different situation. We know people want to hurt us."

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