Bird's Nest opens for business

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 April, 2008, 12:00am

Constructors would be ready to apply the finishing touches to the Olympic centrepiece stadium by May 20, said officials and engineers at the venue yesterday.

The iconic 3.5 billion yuan arena, which was started in December 2003 and completed 14 weeks behind schedule, was open to the international media for the first time yesterday, two days before its debut in an IAAF-sanctioned race walk test event tomorrow.

The National Stadium, known as the Bird's Nest for its pillowed lattice-work structure, looked a grand purpose-built stage for the opening ceremony scheduled for the evening of August 8.

No grass was visible yesterday in the 91,000-seat stadium, which will also host the soccer final, as the entire pitch was covered by steel boards.

Beneath the boards, in a huge vault, were most of the opening ceremony's top-secret gadgets, said Zhang Xuchuan, an on-site engineer. The interior of the vault will play a key part in the ceremony's gala and the lighting up of the cauldron.

It has been the country's best-kept secret, with its construction reportedly handled by the General Equipment department of the People's Liberation Army.

'The delay was mostly due to opening ceremony-related installations,' said Zhang. 'The existing structure is already sufficient, everything should eventually be up and running by May 20.'

The stadium was supposed to have been finished along with the other venues by the end of 2007 but the completion date was first postponed to the end of March and then to the middle of April.

Zhang Hengli, the deputy manager of the National Stadium Company, the property owner of the site, admitted everything he and his colleague did centred on preparations for the opening ceremony, though he insisted that renovation for sports competitions would be carried out swiftly once the 08-08-08 ritual runs its course.

'We will be able to lay out 6,800 pieces of removable lawn patches, each measuring 1.5 square metres, in a matter of hours,' said Zhang Hengli. 'We will also pack them up to make way for the closing ceremony.'

The two-day race walk test events starting tomorrow and the marathon test event on Sunday will stage their final laps inside the stadium. The venue is expected to go into full operation for the three-day China Athletics Open on May 22-25.

Large bands of volunteers, most of them students, began their orientation with the stadium on Tuesday to familiarise themselves with the venue.

Fire drills were also performed yesterday, a reminder to media visitors of the special attention Olympic organisers placed on safety.

Zhang also confirmed at least 1,200 surveillance cameras were scattered around the venue to stave off any possible security threats, looming large against the backdrop of the chaos that has followed the Olympic torch relay.

'That 1,200 was only the initial number of cameras. I think the authorities have installed many more in addition to the original planning,' said Zhang.

Zhang and his colleagues will also be responsible for the post-Games operation of the venue, which some fear could become a white elephant because of lack of access to the masses.