Olympic organizers stick with new marathon route
London organizers refused to back down Friday on their decision to change the Olympic marathon route but said they may have found a solution to restore a multimilllion-dollar fabric wrap around the main stadium for the 2012 Games.
The organizing committee also promised to set aside 70,000 Olympic tickets for sale to athletes and their families and offer multiple-entry visas to teams and officials coming to Britain during the next 18 months leading to the games.
The developments came at the end of a three-day visit by International Olympic Committee inspectors, who praised the ''astonishing'' progress in overall preparations for the games. About 75 percent of the construction is complete on venues in the Olympic Park in east London.
''We see the pieces of the puzzle falling into place now,'' said Denis Oswald, chairman of the IOC's coordination commission.
Local organizing chief Sebastian Coe defended the change of the marathon route, which will start and finish in front of Buckingham Palace and include three loops of central London. The course had originally been scheduled to go through east London and finish in the Olympic Stadium in Stratford.
Residents and several lawmakers protested at the switch because they said it would deny those living in the poorer east side of the city the opportunity to see an Olympic event. The local Tower Hamlets council is seeking a legal review of the change.
Coe said he made the decision for ''operational reasons'' to avoid traffic congestion on what will be one of the busiest days of the Olympics.
''If we get this wrong, it's not worth the risk,'' he said. ''It was one of the toughest decisions I have had to make. ... I will not be changing my mind.'''
Coe and Oswald stressed the new course has been approved by the IOC and the International Association of Athletics Federations. Oswald said the IOC was told the local boroughs could receive some ''compensation,'' such as inclusion on the route of the Olympic torch relay.
Meantime, Coe said potential sponsors have offered to pay for the more than half-mile long stadium wrap that was scrapped last month to save $11 million as part of government budget cuts in Britain.
''Since the decision was made we have had a number of commercial overtures to fund the wrap - so watch this space,'' Coe said.
Any sponsor, however, will not be able to brand the wrap with its name or logo since venue advertising is banned at the Olympics.
Organizers had previously said the wrap, which would feature changing colors and images, could be one of the iconic images of the games.
''We fully understand that the financial and economic circumstances have changed since 2005,'' Oswald said. ''The wrap around the stadium is a nice thing to have. It helps the look of the games but it does not affect the athletes' performance and therefore it is something we felt we could accept.''
The multiple-entry visa agreement, which is subject to parliamentary approval, will make life ''more flexible and cheaper'' for athletes coming to Britain for test events and training camps, London organizing committee chief executive Paul Deighton said.
While athletes at previous Olympics have complained they were unable to buy tickets for families and friends, London organizers said each athlete will be allowed to purchase up to two tickets for every event in which he or she competes.
The program, which will go through each national Olympic committee, ''aims to include every athlete in every session in every sport,'' the London body said.
The IOC also approved the framework of London's plans for test events next year. The schedule, which will be announced before the end of the year, will include world championships, invitational meets and British qualifying events.
The IOC visit came amid continuing uncertainty over the future of the 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium, which originally was designed to be downsized to a 25,000-capacity track and field venue after the games in line with Coe's original promise of an ''athletics legacy.''
The Olympic Park Legacy Company is examining two final bids for the stadium from Premier League clubs Tottenham and West Ham. West Ham would keep the track, while Tottenham would not. A decision is due early next year.
''There was a commitment to have an athletics legacy in the bid,'' Oswald said. ''For us it is important this is respected. We understand that the two bidders will take this into account.''