China Marks 500 Days 'Till Beijing Games

Monday, March 26th 2007, 9:49 am
By: News On 6

BEIJING (AP) _ IOC president Jacques Rogge marked Monday's milestone _ 500 days before the Beijing Olympics _ by calling for a strong focus on this summer's 26 test events.

Events in China's capital marking the moment were low-key. The big day will be Aug. 8 _ the one-year mark _ which will also signal the start of several months of test events.

``I have learnt through my Olympic experience that test events are the key to the success of the Games,'' said Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee.

``Great progress in venue construction should not mean that the organizers lose focus on other areas of Games preparations. Because it is these moments when you lose your concentration that mistakes can creep in.''

Beijing officials held an 11-mile walk and 6.2-mile run across the city on Sunday to mark the milestone.

The design of medals for the Games was to be unveiled Tuesday with about 40 cultural events set this week, geared toward reminding the public that the long-anticipated Games are just over 16 months away.

To mark the 500-days-to-go mark, Rogge gave written replies to a series of questions ranging from venue construction, to test events and air quality.

Construction on roads, stadiums and other venues is far ahead of schedule, and Rogge said the building of 31 Beijing-based venues ``was progressing at a tremendous pace.''

Rogge will be in Beijing in late April for IOC executive board meetings, following a visit last October.

``When walking through the streets of Beijing, the pride and enthusiasm of its people is palpable,'' Rogge said.

Dirty air and chaotic traffic have been a major concern of Games organizers. Rogge said both issues would top the agenda when the IOC's coordination commission meets with local organizers in Beijing in mid-April.

Rogge lauded Beijing officials for moving some heavy industry _ steel and chemical plants _ out of Beijing, and for planting 1,320 acres of tree and shrubs around the airport and Olympic venues. He also said 90 percent of Beijing's sewage was now being treated at new plants.

``I think it is also important to remember that environmental challenges are not new to the Olympic Games,'' Rogge said.

``In Athens, for example, there were issues of heat, and the Los Angeles and Seoul Olympic Games had challenges with air quality.''

Beijing has 2.9 million registered vehicles, and the number is expected to reach 3.3 million by the Olympics, a 13 percent increase.