Thursday, March 6, 2008

Beijing Olympics centerpiece venue delayed by preparations for opening, closing ceremonies

BEIJING (AP) — The completion date for the Beijing Olympics’s
marquee venue has been pushed back by a month, a top organizer
said, as workers put finishing touches on the stadium that
symbolizes China’s ambitions for the games.

Work on the futuristic “Bird’s Nest” National Stadium has been
slowed by preparations for the opening and closing ceremonies and
it will not be ready until late April, Jiang Xiaoyu, executive vice
president of the Beijing Olympics organizing committee, told the
China Daily newspaper.

“The construction of the venue and the background setting up
for the ceremonies are going on together now, which has postponed
the working progress of the Bird’s Nest,” he was quoted as saying
in Thursday editions of the state-run paper. “The Bird’s Nest will
be the last but the best venue at the Beijing Games.”

The main structure of the stadium was complete and only
finishing touches remained, organizing committee spokesman Sun
Weide told The Associated Press. A request for more details was
e-mailed to the committee’s media center, but an employee said they
did not have further information.

With enormous twisted beams wound around the exterior like
silver twigs in a nest, the 91,000 seat National Stadium is the
centerpiece of the games, a massive prestige effort by the
communist government.

Organizers have spared no effort or expense in preparing for the
Beijing Olympics, which they want to use to showcase a modern,
vibrant “new China.” They have been meticulous in planning every
little detail, down to specially breeding flowers that will bloom
in the August heat.

The construction of sparkling new venues has been a key part of
a multibillion-dollar modernization campaign for
Beijing. Anchoring an Olympic Green that also includes a modern indoor
stadium and the “Water Cube” aquatics center, the telegenic
Bird’s Nest is likely to be prominently featured in Olympic
broadcasts around the world.

There have been few venue construction delays on the often-bumpy
road to the games. While China has had to defend against criticism
on everything from its dirty air to its diplomatic policies in
Darfur, every venue but the Bird’s Nest was completed on schedule
by the end of last year.

The process has had hiccups, however. Two workers died during
construction of the Bird’s Nest, and a planned retractable roof had
to be scrapped to cut costs.

There was no suggestion that the Bird’s Nest would not be ready
in time for the Games, which are five months away.

Jiang did not elaborate on the preparations for the opening and
closing ceremonies — directed by Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou, the
details are top secret.

Speculation among ordinary Chinese abounds on the Internet, with
many guessing at how the Olympic flame will be lit during the
Aug. 8 opening ceremony. A columnist for the Chinese edition of Sports
Illustrated joked that Beijing’s potent “erguotou” liquor (some
varieties are 60 percent alcohol) should help set the Olympic
cauldron ablaze.

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