With 3 Years To Go, London Olympics Still On Track

By: AP
By: AP

LONDON (AP) -- This Olympic training went so well that the two star British athletes broke out in smiles.

The needle-nosed "Javelin" high-speed train carried officials, athletes and media from central London to the main site of the 2012 Olympics in 6 minutes, 45 seconds - smashing its scheduled target time of 7 minutes.

That's even faster than Michael Phelps and the rest of the U.S. 800 freestyle relay team swam at the Beijing Olympics while winning in 6:58.56. And the sleek blue-and-yellow train wasn't even clad in a bodysuit, although it probably could've used one to knife through the steady London showers.

Monday's test run came three years to the day when the 2012 Olympics will begin - and it was an important success for London organizers who have been concerned about transportation for the games.

Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell said the three-mile journey "bodes very well indeed" for 2012, when the train service is expected to transport up to 25,000 visitors per hour from St. Pancras International station in central London to the Olympic Park in the Stratford area to the east.

"Ninety-seven percent of people who come to the Olympic Park will travel by public transport," Jowell said. "These will be the public transport games."

The train runs on a 140 mph line along the same route used by Eurostar trains from London to Paris and Brussels. Spectators arriving at the Stratford station will walk over a bridge into the park, where a run-down area is being turned into the showpiece complex.

The train journey began with London 2012 chairman Sebastian Coe, a former two-time Olympic gold medalist in the 1,500 meters, speaking to the passengers over the PA system.

"Hello, this is Seb Coe," he said. "The good news is that I am not your driver this morning. The bad news is that I have (two-time Olympic decathlon champion) Daley Thompson here who is. The train will depart as scheduled at 9:42 a.m."

The train sped through a long tunnel for most of the trip and pulled into the Stratford platform. Coe and the other VIPs then stepped off the train with big smiles after the journey went even faster than predicted.

"Today means pride, it means progress and it means excitement," Coe said later. "Pride that we've made such a good start and we've made such good progress and excitement because we are three years away from the opening ceremony. The competitor in me tells me that is just around the corner."

Coe and the other dignitaries - including 15-year-old Tom Daley, Britain's newly crowned world champion diver - toured the park site by buses, getting a firsthand look at what officials say is the biggest construction project in Europe.

Work is progressing on all the main venues in the park, including the Olympic Stadium, aquatics center, velodrome, media center and athletes' village. Most striking so far is the main 80,000-capacity stadium, whose external structure is already completed. The wave-shaped roof structure on the aquatics center is more than halfway finished.

Coe said the Olympics are on time and ahead of schedule in some cases, as well as on budget. Keeping the momentum going for the next three years is his biggest challenge.

"Everybody wakes up every morning focused on delivering a fantastic games to time and within budget," Coe said. "That's why we get up in the morning."

The British government's overall budget for the games is $15 billion. There is a shortage of private financing because of the recession, forcing the government to dip into a contingency fund to pay for the athletes' village and media center projects. Officials say $2.1 billion in reserve funds remain.

Coe said organizers have already raised $874 million from domestic sponsors - more than any previous host city - and are on their way to meeting an overall target of $1.1 billion.

About 4,000 construction workers are employed at the bustling site, which is peppered with cranes, trucks, bulldozers and other equipment.

The light showers continued for the tour - not unusual for London but a possible worry for 2012.

Mayor Boris Johnson, known for his bombastic style, was unperturbed.

"It is not raining in London 94 percent of the time," he said, repeating the line three times. "We have exactly the same climatic conditions as Paris. Rumors of our wetness are grossly exaggerated."

Jowell, the Olympics Minister, said British spectators won't be bothered by rain drops.

"In the unlikely event that at some point it rains during the Olympics, people are used to pulling on raincoats to watch sport in this country," she said.

The Olympic Stadium, home to the opening and closing ceremonies and track and field competition, has a partial roof covering 40 percent of the seats, which Coe said was "more coverage in terms of roofing capacity that the last three Olympic Games."

Questions remain over the post-Olympics use of the stadium, which is designed to be downsized after 2012 to a 25,000-capacity arena for track and field and other events. Organizers say they are determined not to leave any "white elephants."

But Baroness Margaret Ford, head of a new 2012 legacy agency, has suggested the stadium could remain as is, especially if England wins its bid to host soccer's 2018 World Cup.

Still to be completed are the venues for shooting and boxing.

Daley, who won a gold medal in diving for Britain at the world championships in Rome last week, is sure to be one of the faces of the London Games.

"It's crazy," he said after seeing the aquatics center, where digging has just begun on the diving pool. "At the moment there is just a roof there. Just to think what is going to be inside there is incredible because I always imagine myself every time I come here to be on top of the 10-meter board."

"If I was to do anything like I did in Rome it would be amazing to stand on top of the podium in London with the national anthem playing, in your own country," he said. "It would be just incredible."

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