IOC hails test events as Beijing starts final sprint

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BEIJING, Oct 23 (Reuters) Beijing faces a final sprint to get everything ready for the 2008 Olympics but the ''triumph'' of the test events give grounds for optimism the Games will be a success, the head of the IOC inspection team said today.

Beijing is hosting 42 test events before the Games open on August 8 and International Olympic Committee (IOC) Coordination Commission chairman Hein Verbruggen said that feedback from athletes and federations so far had been positive.

''The triumph thus far of these events ... gives us great optimism for the Games next August, especially because we still have some time to deal with the issues that did crop up during these sports events,'' he told the opening session of the ninth and penultimate visit of the commission to the Chinese capital.

Verbruggen said the work undertaken by Beijing organisers over the remaining 290 days until the opening ceremony could make a big difference to the outcome of the Games.

''It is like a long distance runner,'' he said.

''Our final sprint could be the difference between a gold medal and silver medal when it comes to the organisation of the Games.'' The commission visited Hong Kong en route to Beijing to inspect the venue for the equestrian events for the Games, which will be held in the former British colony because of quarantine problems on the mainland.

''We are seeing top quality venues being built for the Games, and with a strong equestrian tradition in Hong Kong we are convinced we will see some great equestrian performances in 2008,'' Verbruggen said.

China's Sport Minister Liu Peng, standing in for chief Beijing organiser Liu Qi, referred to last week's Communist Party Congress in his opening comments.

''The 17th Party Congress has made the preparation and organisation of the 2008 Games a magnificent mission and clearly demanded that we host a good Olympics and Paralympics,'' he said.

Beijing's notorious pollution and traffic problems are likely to be high on the agenda during the three days of meetings between Beijing organisers and IOC members.

REUTERS TB BD1415

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