IOC's Killy: Sochi work on track at quick pace

The Associated Press
Wednesday, March 23, 2011; 6:24 AM

SOCHI, Russia -- Construction of venues for the Sochi Winter Olympics was proceeding at an impressive pace, the IOC said on Wednesday.

Russian officials were warned last year by Jean-Claude Killy, the head of the International Olympic Committee's coordination commission for Sochi, that construction delays could threaten the ambitious plans for the 2014 Games, which includes building all the facilities anew.

But on Wednesday he told a news conference that "as far as we are concerned, and according to our experts, everything is going according to plan."

"I wouldn't have said that last year," he added.

Killy spoke at the end of a three-day inspection tour, the commission's fifth look at work in the Black Sea resort area.

He said Russian organizers have assured the IOC that 70 percent of the construction work will be completed by next year, and singled out the expected completion of the bobsled run in February as "very impressive."

Sochi construction had been dogged by concerns not only about the daunting scale of the project, but by Russia's reputation for inefficiency.

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, the Russian government's overseer for Sochi development, acknowledged heavy fog had blocked flights at Sochi airports for several days this winter, raising worries about what would happen if similar weather set in during the games.

He said plans were being developed for Sochi-bound flights to be rerouted if necessary to Krasnodar, a major city about 105 miles to the north, and transporting spectators and athletes by rail to Sochi.

"The weather taught us a lesson," he said.

Kozak also brushed off a question about persistent suspicions that corruption and kickbacks were inflating the cost of Sochi construction.

"Corruption and embezzlement can be confirmed only after a court verdict. Such a verdict has not been pronounced," he said.

A statement from the IOC said the commission identified four priorities for the Russian organizers to concentrate on, including recruiting and training the work force for the games, and ensuring visitor services are of a high standard.

Killy also approved of last month's choice of the Sochi Games' mascots, calling the snow leopard, polar bear and rabbit "young and funny."

The mascots caused a minor controversy in Russia after President Dmitry Medvedev questioned whether the voting, phone calls and text messages had genuinely reflected the people's will.

© 2011 The Associated Press