Cleaning, painting among final preparations

ATHENS -- Four days removed from the opening of the 2004 Olympic Games, the most popular Olympic "sports" in the host city include:

  • Standing in line to buy Games tickets. During the past weekend, when some ticket outlets were closed, an additional 38,000 tickets nonetheless were purchased in Greece, bringing the total spike in sales in the past three weeks to 284,000 tickets.

    "We are very satisfied with the response of the Greek public," said Michael Zacharatos, spokesman for the Athens 2004 organizing committee, also known as ATHOC.

  • Removing construction-generated dust from newly completed public areas at Olympic Park and inside venues as well. A worker driving a street-sweeper around the vast open promenade appeared to be fighting a losing battle Monday. And inside the gymnastics hall, a man with a bucket of water and a rag wiped down a section of spectator seats -- one at a time.

  • Planting shrubs and trees where there is now largely parched earth. A forklift was delivering more shrubbery Monday to fill in an area between the open-air swimming venue and the cycling velodrome.

  • Painting railings and other venue accents. A young man wearing an Orlando Magic tank top was busy inside the gymnastics arena adding a coat of white paint to metal railings.

  • Wiring sound and broadcast equipment at arenas and stadiums. The swimming venue was business as usual in the water, where athletes trained in both the warm-down and competition pools. The seating and media areas, however, remain strewn with discarded nails, wire, boards, empty boxes and miles of cable and wiring. One elevator bank was not operating and still awaiting final installation. A worker was installing a few remaining rows of seats.

    Despite considerable lingering debris and metal scraps, signs are posted in all facilities reminding inhabitants to "Please Keep the Venue Clean".

  • Singing the praises of Athens and local organizers of the Games who, just a few short months ago, could not buy a compliment.

    "The International Olympic Committee has always expressed its confidence that our Greek friends would finalize preparations in due time, and today we can see that they have kept that promise," IOC President Jacques Rogge said Monday in a symbolic appearance in sweltering heat at the center of Olympic Park, home of the controversial Olympic Stadium and other key venues for swimming, gymnastics and cycling.

    "We are extremely grateful to them for that. This has been achieved with a great efficiency amidst, I must say, a great widespread skepticism."

    But frenetic work continued not far away. In front of Samsung's Olympic Rendezvous attraction in the park, a pallet of 42-inch plasma TVs, still in their boxes, baked in the sun on a 90-plus degree Mediterranean summer day. Next to the main stadium, stacks of uninstalled seats wrapped in plastic dotted the landscape. A forklift blocked the front door of a yet incomplete Kodak Digital Photo Center, and cleaning crews scrubbed the glass windows, doors and interior of the two-story Olympic Park McDonald's restaurant. Kodak, McDonald's and Samsung are global Olympic sponsors.

    All of these last-minute activities are of little concern to locals who are queuing up to stake their claims for Olympic tickets following months of doubt that Athens organizers would sell them in substantial numbers.

    As of Monday, Athens 2004's Zacharatos said, total sales were 2.4 million tickets toward a goal of at least 3.4 million. But because high-end tickets to medal finals and the opening and closing ceremonies are sold out, he said the organization is 90 percent of the way to its ticket revenue goal of 183 million Euros (about $150 million). But in this era of soaring costs to host the Games, that revenue source is only 10 percent of the $1.5 billion security tab facing the Greek government.

    Organizers have erected ticket kiosks near competition venues to promote day-of-event sales as well.

    Dressed in a the official polo and shorts mirroring the attire of staff and volunteers, Athens 2004 chief Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, former member of Greek Parliament, joined Rogge to reaffirm that the city and the organization are up to the challenges of the 17 days of competition, security and crowd control, beginning Friday.

    "We're ready, our people in ATHOC are ready, the volunteers are fantastic, the Greek public has shown an unprecedented support by buying tickets, by being volunteers, by showing our guests there will not be in any transport problems," she said.

    Rogge encouraged Greeks to flock to stadiums and cheer for the world's Olympians, and added, "I would like to thank the Greek public for the patience they had during the (construction)."

    He should have singled out the guy with the bucket and the rag.

    Steve Woodward is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.