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WORLD

Games heads leave little to chance

By CNN's Grant Holloway

YOUR E-MAIL ALERTS
Beijing (China)
China
Olympics

(CNN) -- Chinese officials planning the 2008 summer Olympic Games in Beijing could be forgiven for feeling a little weighed down by the burden of extraordinary expectation -- both on the home front and from abroad.

But if the pressure is on members of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games (BOCOG), then they are not showing it -- at least not yet.

In sharp contrast to the last-minute sprint to the starting line by Greek organizers in 2004, China's bosses have been told by the International Olympic Committee to slow down their preparations for fear of accruing massive venue maintenance costs for venues which are finished too soon.

Construction of seven Games venues began in 2003 and building work on another seven new venues begins this year. This includes renewed work on the architecturally challenging main stadium, nicknamed the "bird's nest" because of its interlaced steel design.

Initial building of the main stadium began in December 2003, but was suspended last July for revamp of the design to incorporate greater safety and utility features.

The main frame of the stadium is now scheduled to be finished in May next year and the embryonic form of the "bird's nest" should be able to be seen from around August or September 2006, according to Olympic officials.

Work is also well under way on the Games' main swimming venue with a finish date scheduled for September 2007. This will allow for almost a year of testing and pre-Games events.

Renovation and upgrades of a further 22 venues to be used for the Games is scheduled to begin next year.

If being ready too early is a problem, then it's a nice one to have -- and it's easy to understand China's eagerness to deliver on promises that Beijing will host the most spectacular Olympic event yet produced.

Beijing has set its sights high. An unprecedented $35 billion is being spent on the Games preparations, much of it on improving the Chinese capital's inadequate urban infrastructure.

Earlier this month, Chinese officials promised all 36 of the city's competition venues would be within a 30-minute drive of the Olympic Village. To achieve this, a massive upgrade of Beijing's roads -- including the building of a city ring road -- is under way.

BOCOG's vice president, Yang Shu'an, told media the committee had completed a transportation strategic plan, established a transport coordination and command mechanism, and begun building a transportation model for the Games.

Another key infrastructure concern for the Beijing organizers will be ensuring the city has enough accommodation to cope with the influx of domestic and international visitors the Games will attract.

Beijing's Vice-Mayor, Zhang Mao, is confident the challenges will be met, pointing to the 24 new hotels, offering around 10,000 rooms, which are already under construction.

That will bring the number of hotel rooms available in the city to 110,000 and does not include thousands of guest houses which are being upgraded to help cope with the influx.

"The capacity of these hotels can by and large meet the demand of peak period in 2008," Zhang told media earlier.

Planning for the Games' massive security requirements has also begun with the release of a security masterplan in early April and the establishment of a security coordination group.

Officials say the master-plan will not turn Beijing into a fortress, but rather rely on advanced security technology and management to maintain order.

Chinese media reports almost all of the nation's security branches will be involved in the master-plan, including transport police.

A rapid-response security force will be also be established, along with an Olympic security command center and an intelligence center.

The Beijing Games will begin at 8 p.m. on the eighth day of the eighth month of 2008 -- a most auspicious combination of lucky numbers for Chinese citizens.

But even if the numerical portents are highly favorable, Chinese administrators are, in fact, leaving very little to chance.


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