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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

Media Contact: Todd McLeish, 874-7892

URI turf expert advises Athens Olympic Committee
on athletic field preparations

KINGSTON, R.I. -- June 23, 2003 -- The Athens (Greece) Olympic Committee has its hands full as it races to complete the numerous athletic fields by the opening of the 2004 Summer Olympics. The arid climate, rough terrain, and frequent unearthing of archaeological antiquities have led to considerable construction delays. According to W. Michael Sullivan, these factors are going to make growing grass on the athletic fields a challenge.

The University of Rhode Island turf expert just returned from a week-long visit to Greece to advise organizers working with the Olympic Committee and its building contractors about grass varieties, soil conditions, fertilizers and environmental considerations for the playing fields.

"If we were putting in comparable fields here in South County, we could do it in six months, because we have the proper soils, water and topography. But they don’t in Greece," Sullivan said. "It’s rocky, rugged country there. So they’re going to be hard pressed to have all the fields in Olympic condition in the 14 months they’ve got before the games begin."

Sullivan was one of 30 turf experts from around the world invited by the International Horticultural Society to tour the facilities and conduct workshops for Olympic Committee officials, university representatives, and the workers who will be installing the grass.

"The logistics of putting those fields together are phenomenal," he said. "They’re getting sand from Sicily, the nearest sod farms are north of Vienna, Austria, and the workers come from all over the place so they speak lots of different languages. And because the facilities are still under construction, they don’t have time to put the sod down and let it grow in for a few months.

"The complexity and duration of that civilization, and their desire to preserve the antiquities they are finding, has created another level of complexity not faced by other Olympic countries," he added.

Sullivan said that laying turf for the many different Olympic athletic events isn’t as easy as growing a lawn. Different athletic events require different field conditions.

Turf at the equestrian center, for instance, will need to provide firm footing for an 1,800 pound horse and rider, which means the soil must have a high sand content to drain water away quickly so the leaping animals don’t slip. That grass will be tall fescue mowed to about 3 inches in height.

Fields for soccer and many other events will be mowed to three-quarters of an inch in height and will likely be a mix of blue grass and rye grass.

"Given all the work that still needs to be done, I suspect the torch for the opening ceremonies may be coming down the street as the guys from Austria are backing out of the stadium after laying the turf," Sullivan said.

For Further Information: Michael Sullivan, 874-4540.

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