Work on London’s Olympic Stadium completed

Construction on the flagship stadium for the 2012 London

Olympics was completed Tuesday when the last patch of turf was laid

on the grass infield of the 80,000-seat venue.

The $777 million Olympic Stadium was finished under budget and

three months ahead of schedule – less than three years after work

began in May 2008 and 16 months before the opening ceremony on July

27, 2012.

”In some previous games we were struggling to have a stadium

ready for the opening,” IOC executive board member Denis Oswald

told The Associated Press. ”Here, more than a year ahead of the

games, now it’s ready and we could nearly compete tomorrow. This is

very encouraging and very satisfactory.”

The stadium, which will host the track and field competition and

opening and closing ceremonies, is the centerpiece of the overall

$14.8 billion project, which is transforming a former industrial

wasteland in east London into a massive Olympic Park.

Former Olympic sprinter Frank Fredericks used a shovel to put

down the symbolic last patch of grass on the 97,000-square foot

infield, as London organizing committee chairman Sebastian Coe and

others stood by.

The surface of the running track will be installed this year,

while organizers will also need to dress up the stadium and prepare

700 rooms and other facilities.

”We wouldn’t want anyone to run away with the idea that this

stadium is ready to stage an Olympic track and field championship

tomorrow,” Coe said. ”But as chairman of an organizing committee,

to be able to tick off structurally these venues is terrific. With

one year and a few months to go, this is a great place to be.”

Oswald heads the IOC coordination commission for London, which

is making its eighth visit to the city to check on preparations.

Fredericks, a Namibian sprinter who won four Olympic silver medals,

is one of the commission members.

”They have lived up to the promises of building a fantastic

facility,” Fredericks said, standing a few yards from the finish

line. ”It’s also good that they are sending out a positive message

that it is possible to do this under budget.”

After the games, the stadium will be converted to a 60,000-seat

venue that will serve as home to West Ham soccer team. The arena

will also host track and field competitions, concerts and community

events.

West Ham was selected over a bid from Premier League rival

Tottenham, which proposed building a soccer-only stadium on the

site without the track.

”You don’t know how many votes London got because they promised

a legacy in the track,” Fredericks said. ”It’s nice that they

kept their promises.”

A light rain was falling at the stadium before the sun came out

as IOC officials and organizers arrived for the occasion. The

stadium roof only partially covers the stands, meaning spectators

may have to contend with London’s traditional wet weather during

the games.

Olympic Delivery Authority chairman John Armitt said building a

roof covering all the seats would have added ”a lot of

money.”

”As always, these things are a compromise,” he said. ”We’ve

got about two-thirds of the spectators covered. Basically it’s a

summer stadium for the games. I think it will work. If you’re bound

up with the excitement of an Olympic Games, a light shower is not

going to put anybody off.”

The IOC commission is in town amid a messy legal dispute between

Coe’s organizing committee, LOCOG, and the British Olympic

Association. The BOA has taken LOGOG to the Court of Arbitration

for Sport, claiming that it deserves a larger share of any surplus

generated by the games.

Oswald, who has urged the BOA to drop its case, said he hopes

the issue can be resolved this week.

”The sooner, the better,” he said. ”We hope everybody will

concentrate on the success of the games and not on a dispute which

does not help either party.”