Moscow — A Soviet athlete hurtled toward me on the dark-red running track that will be on the world TV screens July 19. Up and over a hurdle he went, as a television camera focused in from the green-grass infield, and his picture flashed on two huge electronic scoreboards high above.
The air hummed and crackled with last- minute preparations at the very heart of the Moscow Olympics -- the massive open-air concrete circle called Lenin stadium. Here 100,000 spectators and a global TV audience will watch the opening ceremony July 19, the closing ceremony Aug. 3, and dozens of track and field, football, and even equestrian events in between.
Grimy construction troops wandered past me, black boots dirty, khaki shorts and trousers worn, part of thousands of Army soldiers preparing the stadium for its biggest day. A group of young women construction workers broke for lunch, their laughter echoing off the concrete sides of the stadium, plastic bags of bread and cake clutched in their paint-spattered hands.
Delighted to be showing it off to a correspondent from the chief boycotting country, the United States, was young, energetic Anatoly Dimitrov, who grew up in this area of Moscow and is a deputy director in charge of sports arenas of the entire Luzhniki complex, of which Lenin stadium is only a part.
It took two weeks of letters and phone calls to get an appointment at Luzhniki. US correspondents here have had the impression that they have been penalized at times because of the US boycott.
But when I finally walked into Mr. Dimitrov's office, he was gracious and welcoming, and took pride in showing an American the enormous amount of work his government had done to become the first communist country ever to host an Olympic Games.
For two hours we drove and walked around Luzhniki, the best-known sports center in the Soviet Union. It is virtually a separate township, 432 acres contained in a bend of the Moscow River about 20 minutes by car from Red Square.
Luzhniki includes seven major sports complexes, of which Lenin stadium is one , 14 soccer fields, 40 tennis courts, 3 track-and-field training grounds, 15 volleyball and basketball centers, and dozens of other facilities for handball, archery, and hockey.
More than 1,000 men and women work in Luzhniki year-round. Mr. Dimitrov said about 50 millions rubles ($77.7 million) had been spent to refurbish the Lenin stadium and reconstruct several others.
Altogether, one-third of all Olympic events will take place in the green and well-tended expanse of Luzhniki. We walked into Lenin stadium to the roar of jackhammers and the whine of saws.Above us towered four gray- painted metal towers, each 284 feet high, carrying banks of powerful lights for telivision cameras and night events.
The dark-red "tartan" running track was made by 3M Company and installed by a Swiss subsidiary, Mr. Dimitrov said. Soviet athletes were using it to practice 400-meter hurdles. To our right, one man grimly went through a hop-step-jump routine over and over.
The giant electronic scoreboards came from Hungary. Although TV cameras on the infield were showing the hurdlers that morning, the scoreboard pictures during the games will be of key events held outside the stadium, so the 100,000 spectators inside can keep up with other events.
Most of the seats are a pale brownish- white, but the VIP seats at the finish line are bright red. Around them are orange seats for lesser, but still ranking , officials. Beside them is a large area for the press: black desks for cameramen and others for correspondents, all equipped with TV seats and electronic typewriters.
Behind, jutting above the stadium, was the bowl for the Olympic flame, covered with gold-anodized aluminum. Below, construction troops and others hammered, sawed, and welded in showers of sparks.
A few minutes away by car was the Palace of Sports, a square, covered stadium with 12,000 seats. It is the country's main hockey stadium, but now the ice is gone, replaced by balance beams, rings, and a flat, light-blue, square area for gymnastics. To give gymnasts space to change and relax, eight additional 600 -square-foot "rooms" have been bolted to the outside of the building.
Another short drive and we were in the called "maly" (small) 9,000-seat hall, completely reconstructed for Olympic volleyball. Players will use a special French-made floor surface, porous and nonskid.
On the far side of the stadium we watched water-polo teams practice in what used to be Moscow's main swimming pool, surrounded by open-air stands that will seat several thousand. For the games, a huge new pool has been built, with a separate diving area, along with a 45,000-seat covered stadium (the biggest in Europe) on Prospekt Mira (Peace Prospect) on the other side of the city.
Finally we inspected a brand-new building, also to be used for volleyball. Nicknamed "the crab," its circular roof is supported by concrete beams thrusting to the ground like the legs of a crab. Constructed close to one of the city's busiest highways, the 3,500-seat stadium is one of the best-known buildings in all Moscow.
"About 10,000 workers have helped prepare Luzhniki for the games," Mr. Dimitrov said. "As you can see, the whole area is like a park -- grass, trees, flowerbeds."
No expense has been spared to make Luzhniki an Olympics showcase.On July 19, it will be in the world headlines as the controversial, boycott-affected Moscow Games finally open.