London marks 3-year countdown

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 until the opening ceremony, London organisers have passed an important test with the successful trial run of a high-speed train service to the 2012 Olympic Park. The “Javelin” train carried British organisers and athletes from St Pancras International station in London to the Olympic Park in Stratford in just under the target of seven minutes.

Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell says Monday's journey bodes well for 2012, when the train service is expected to carry up to 25,000 visitors per hour to and from the park.

The officials and athletes toured the Olympic Park, where work is in progress on the Olympic Stadium, aquatics center, velodrome, athletes' village and other venues.

Officials say the project is on time and on budget.“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 organising 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 IOC, 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.”

Construction is under way on all the main venues in the park, including the Olympic Stadium, aquatics centre, velodrome, the media centre 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 centre is more than halfway finished.

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 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 win the 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. Coe said the organisers have already raised £530 million from domestic sponsors — more than any previous host city — and are on their way to meeting an overall target of £680 million. London has 21 national sponsors, including 12 signed up in 2009.