'Athletes are in shock' as track repairs continue until last minute

Damage caused by opening ceremony at main stadium needs emergency work for athletics to start today
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Work was still ongoing here yesterday at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in a last-minute attempt to ensure the showpiece arena is ready for athletics events, which are scheduled to begin at 1pm British time today. Part of the running track was being re-laid having been damaged during the opening ceremony and turf was being put on the infield.

Jonathan Edwards, the world triple jump record holder and BBC television commentator, visited the track yesterday and said athletes were "in shock" having seen the state of the stadium. "There is a feeling that there are a lot of people working here but no real sense of urgency," he said. "They're re-laying part of the track which I think was damaged during the opening ceremony.

"I've seen a number of athletes come in and I think they're in shock," Edwards added. "For a top athlete this is not what you expect. It's beyond anything I imagined. Hopefully it will be ready to go tomorrow for the first session. This is a culture where things are got ready at the last minute but there are very real concerns."

Remarkably, organisers remained bullish. Suresh Kalmadi, chairman of the organising committee, addressed the media for the first time yesterday and waxed lyrical about the success of Sunday's opening ceremony. "Yes," he said, "his Royal Highness Prince Diana, er, Prince Charles was there, and the Duchess of Cornwall was there, and they appreciated all the efforts being made. The Games are being appreciated by all of the athletes now. Now, it's almost trouble-free."

That depends on your personal definition of "almost" and indeed "trouble." At the very same time as Kalamadi was attempting to give the impression of a smooth-running show, a team of workmen were on the in-field at the stadium.

Judging by the state of the supposedly showpiece arena yesterday, it should be another desperately close call for the organisers of these Squeaky Bum Games. They got the athletes' village in a habitable state by the seat of their pants, narrowly averting a mass boycott, and when the swimming got underway on Monday the floor tiles to the main entrance were still being grouted in place.

The track and field action at multi-sport Games traditionally starts a week after the opening ceremony but the gap here is just three days. The grass in-field had been in place before the opening ceremony but, despite three layers of protective covering designed to take 10,000 tonnes of weight, the impact of more than 7,000 performers and several thousand tonnes of heavy equipment took a heavier than expected toll.

There are two field events scheduled on today's programme: the qualifying competitions for the women's hammer and the men's shot. There are also five track events: the men's 5,000m final, the first and second round of the men's 100m, the first round of the women's 100m, and the first round of the women's 400m.

The field for the men's 5,000 final tonight features the Olympic silver medallist Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya and England's Chris Thompson, the European Championship 10,000m silver medallist.

At a press conference that descended into a farce of Carry On proportions, Kalmadi and fellow organising officials said that their "one area of concern" was a lack of spectators at the events staged on the opening day. There were other matters, however, that needed to be addressed. Later in the day there was an anonymous call claiming a bomb had been planted in the athletes' village, though thankfully it proved to be a hoax. After the complex was searched and nothing found, the call was traced and the hoaxer arrested.

A day after the boxing weigh-in was reduced to chaos and ultimately postponed because of a faulty set of scales, there were reports that the diving platforms had been found to be too long. Steve Moneghetti, Australia's chef de mission, asked for a written apology from the organising committee, saying his team had been "treated like cattle" at the opening ceremony.

Comments