Image: olive tree planted at Ancient Olympia
Petros Giannakouris  /  AP file
Scientists stand behind a newly planted olive tree at Ancient Olympia in November of 2007. Greece’s Olympic Committee says that work to replant fire-ravaged woods at the birthplace of the ancient Olympic Games is far behind schedule.
updated 1/17/2008 3:50:14 PM ET 2008-01-17T20:50:14

Greece's Olympic Committee said Thursday that work to replant fire-ravaged woods at the birthplace of the ancient Olympic Games was far behind schedule, and urged "drastic improvement" before the flame-lighting ceremony for the Beijing Olympics.

The conservative government has pledged to replant the area around the site, following the descriptions of ancient writers, in time for the March 24 ceremony.

But the Hellenic Olympic Committee, or HOC, said work was badly delayed.

"If the current situation does not improve drastically in the immediate future, our country will be brought into international disrepute and one of the Olympic movement's top events will be dramatically discredited," an HOC statement said.

"We express our deepest concern at the progress of the work at the site, given the very tight time schedule."

Officials at the Culture Ministry, which is responsible for replanting at the World Heritage site, were not immediately available for comment.

Ancient Olympia, in the western Peloponnese, a lush beauty spot where the ancient Games were first held in 776 B.C, suffered extensive damage from the summer wildfires — the worst on record — that killed 66 people in southern Greece. Firefighters kept the flames at bay just short of the 2,500-year-old ruined temples and stadium, but the surrounding forests were obliterated.

Culture Minister Michalis Liapis said last year that the flame-lighting ceremony for the Beijing Olympics would be conducted "in the best way possible," while 3,200 bushes and trees would be planted on the Hill of Kronos that overlooks the site.

The carefully orchestrated ritual has been held at Ancient Olympia before every Olympics since the 1936 Berlin Games.

Kneeling in front of the ruined Temple of Hera, an actress in the white gown and sandals of an ancient high priestess lights the Olympic flame using a concave mirror to focus the sun's heat on a silver torch.

The flame is transported to the host city by a relay of runners, with the last using it to ignite a cauldron at the Olympic stadium during the opening ceremony.

Beijing organizers plan to stage the longest torch relay in Olympic history — an 85,000-mile, 130-day route that will cross five continents.

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