'Turning point' for Athens organisers

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The Independent Online

Juan Antonia Samaranch, the International Olympic Committee president, hailed yesterday's changes in the organising committee of the 2004 Athens Olympics as a "turning point" that will put the troubled games back on track.

Last month, Samaranch criticised Athens organisers for falling behind in preparations and suggested the games could be taken from Greece unless "drastic" measures were taken.

Yianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki - the charismatic lawyer who led Athens' successful bid for the Games - is taking over the organising committee. She replaces Panagiotis Thomopoulos, the deputy governor of the Bank of Greece, to become the first woman to head an Olympic organising committee. Thomopoulos had asked to resign shortly before Samaranch's warning.

The announcement by the Prime Minister Costas Simitis followed a cabinet meeting to seek ways of speeding up preparations for the Games and on the eve of the lighting of the Olympic flame at ancient Olympia, where it will start its four-month journey to open the Sydney Games. In addition, the Greek government has appointed a committee of ministers, headed by Simitis, to oversee preparations.

"The IOC is very, very pleased with the decisions taken today by the Greek government," Samaranch said. "We are very positive that this is the beginning of a new era for the organisation of the games, and that they will be a great success.

"I'm sure with the new team, all will be in the right way," he added. "I think today is the turning point."