Tuesday, 28 July 2009

London marks 3-year countdown to 2012 Olympics

LONDON — The construction of venues is forging ahead, hundreds of millions in sponsorship money has been secured, and the project remains on time and on budget despite the recession.With three years to go Monday until the opening ceremony, London organizers say they are firmly on track in preparations for the 2012 Olympics."If you had asked me a day after we won the games in Singapore four years ago, whether I would take where we are now, the answer would have been, 'Absolutely, firmly yes,'" said Sebastian Coe, chairman of London's Olympic organizing committee."We are exactly where we would want to be at this moment, halfway through our journey with three years to go," Coe said. "We're on budget, we're on track, we have an ambition to deliver a great games. There is a tangible sense of excitement building."The International Olympic Committee, which regularly tracks London's progress, offered its full endorsement."A little over four years ago, Seb Coe presented a vision of games that would make a difference," IOC president Jacques Rogge said in a statement. "London 2012 and its partners are delivering on that vision. ... I am in no doubt that in 2012 we will see great games that will make a difference to us all."To mark the three-year countdown, British organizers and Olympic athletes will tour the Olympic Park in east London where the heart of the games will be located. They will see firsthand the massive construction site that is turning a deprived area of the city's Stratford section into the showpiece complex for 2012.Among the athletes lined up for the visit was 15-year-old Tom Daley, who grabbed national attention last week by becoming the youngest diver to win a world championship title in men's platform and figures to be one of the faces of the games in 2012.The group will travel to the park from St. Pancras international rail station aboard the new highspeed "Javelin" train, the first test run of the service that is designed to transport up to 25,000 visitors per hour to and from the complex during the games. The journey time is supposed to be just seven minutes.Construction is under way on all the main venues in the park, including the Olympic Stadium, aquatics center, velodrome, the media center and athletes' village. Most striking so far is the main stadium, whose external structure is already completed. The wave-shaped roof structure on the aquatics center is more than halfway finished."Nobody visiting the Olympic Park can fail to be blown away by the extraordinary engineering achievement that greets you when you arrive in Stratford," London Mayor Boris Johnson said.A hot domestic issue remains the future of the Olympic Stadium, which will have a capacity of 80,000 seats for the games but is designed to be downsized to a 25,000-seat arena after 2012 and serve mainly as a venue for track and field. Some officials, including members of a new London legacy agency, have suggested the stadium could be kept as it is, particularly if England wins its bid to host the 2018 World Cup."It's quite right and proper for (the legacy group) to look in detail at our venues," Coe said. "What is not in question is that the legacy for the Olympic Stadium is track and field, but not uniquely track and field. My commitment to the International Olympic Committee is we would have a track-and-field legacy. All other considerations are within the bailiwick of the legacy group."The government's total budget for the Olympic project is 9.325 billion pounds ($15 billion). Because of a shortage of private financing due to the credit crisis, the government had to dip into its 2 billion contingency fund to pay for the athletes' village and media center projects, but officials say 1.272 billion pounds of reserve funds remain.Coe said organizers have already raised 530 million pounds from domestic sponsors — more than any previous host city — and are on their way to meeting an overall target of 680 million pounds. London has 21 national sponsors, including 12 signed up in 2009."Our decision to bring those business partners to the table early on was one of the most crucial decisions we made," Coe said.Coe is unconcerned by the prospect of a change in national government, with Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his Labour Party widely expected to be swept from power by David Cameron's opposition Conservative Party in national elections to be held by June 2010."We have an extraordinary high level of cross-party support," said Coe, a former Conservative Party lawmaker. "We will continue to deliver, whatever political structure we are given to deliver under." - AP

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