Sydney's torch launch delayed

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The Independent Online

The organisers of the Sydney Games, which begin in September, yesterday said they would continue with their plans to send the Olympic torch into space.

A replica of the torch which will light the Sydney Olympic cauldron was packed on board the space shuttle Atlantis for a lift-off from the Kennedy Space Centre, in Florida, on Monday. Organisers were hoping the space mission, during which the torch will orbit the earth 15 times a day for a week, would help promote the official Olympic torch relay which starts next month. But their plans were put on hold when the launch was postponedbecause of strong crosswinds at the launch site.

"This is not going to delay the start of the relay," a spokesman for the Sydney Games committee said. "We remain confident that the torch will be in space in time to promote the start of the Sydney 2000 torch relay."

The Olympic flame will belit on 10 May from the sun's rays at the Temple of Hera near the ancient ruins of Olympia, starting a five-month journey which culminates in the lighting of the cauldron at the Sydney Olympic stadium on 15 September.

Meanwhile, the 2004 Olympic Games organising committee yesterday blamed the Greek government for delays in its preparations, but vowed to restore international confidence in Athens within one month.

Greek government officials were meeting with organising committee members following severe criticism of Athens' progress by the International Olympic Committee president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, last week. "I think in about one month the climate will have changed. There will not be this distrust," said the Greek culture minister, Theodoros Pangalos, whose department is in charge of the preparations.

Samaranch warned Athens last week that the Games could be in jeopardy unless drastic and immediate organisational changes were made.