This week, workers in Athens started to put the steel and glass roof on Calatrava’s Olympic stadium – and in the nick of time. But will all the venues be ready for this summer’s games?
The contrast between preparations for the Athens and Beijing Olympics couldn’t be more marked. In China the showpiece stadiums are expected to be ready by 2006 - two full years before the start of the Beijing Games. The Greeks, meanwhile, are in a manic race to complete venues in time for their Olympiad, which starts on 13 August. There is much work still to be done - as of last week only 24 of the 38 venues had been completed.

The announcement last week that China would be launching a £14m satellite to monitor construction indicates the meticulous nature of China’s preparations. The International Olympic Committee is full of praise, and it recently described preparations in Beijing as perfect. In contrast, last month the IOC warned the Greeks that if the completion of the main stadium roof was not underway by 20 May then “contingency plans” would be put in place. This was taken to mean that the athletics could have been removed to an existing stadium elsewhere such as the Olympic arena in Barcelona.

With temperatures of up to 40°C expected in Athens, an Olympic stadium without a roof would be difficult for the IOC to contemplate, although there is a precedent. The proposed roof of the swimming arena has already been scrapped because of the time constraints and swimming teams will have to pack sun cream alongside their swimsuits.

Thankfully the Greeks seem to be responding to the threat of global humiliation. This week the first half of Santiago Calatrava’s steel and glass roof was gently slid into position. The other half of the 18,000 tonne structure consisting of two giant arches is expected to be in place later this month, which should leave the contractors enough time to finish the stadium before the opening ceremony.

Having witnessed this week’s progress on the roof, the IOC is now saying that the work must be finished by the end of June, to allow contractors enough time to finish of the stadium and complete tests and rehearsals.

Elsewhere, two other projects are struggling to meet a 30 June delivery date set by the IOC. The Karaiskaki stadium in Athens, which will host the final rounds of the football tournament, was the last project to be tendered and is behind schedule. The work on the upgrading of the historic Marathon route is also lagging behind schedule.

As well as the swimming pool other projects have been scaled back including a Calatrava-designed transport hub designed to improve connections with Athens international airport, which has been simplified. The Greeks have left their running late, but with the morale-boosting installation of the roof it looks as though they will reach the finish line in time - at least for the main event.