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ATHENS 2004

Concerns Over Turin Seem to Exceed Those for Greece

August 30, 2004|Alan Abrahamson | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — When the flame went out Sunday night at Olympic Stadium, the spotlight shifted immediately to the next edition of the Games, the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, which begin Feb. 10, 2006, not even 18 months from now.

It's hardly certain, officials said, that Turin -- in Italian, Torino, the name the city will be called on NBC's Olympic telecasts -- will be ready.

For public consumption, Olympic insiders express only modest concern. Behind the scenes, they are far more direct. Referring to the troubled preparation for the Athens Games -- concerns over construction, transportation, security and cost overruns -- a senior Olympic official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, "We will remember this as the greatest, compared to Torino. Torino is [messed] up."

At the same time, Olympic officials also say the Turin Games could -- and should -- set a new standard for style and other "look of the Games" issues, meaning the way the Olympic venues look in person and on television.

The Turin "look" is based on the "piazza," or city square, which chief organizer Valentino Castellani has described as the "perfect Italian metaphor for the Olympic Games -- a place of passion and participation."

"A terrific idea," said Jean-Claude Killy, the three-time 1968 Grenoble Games skiing gold medalist who oversaw the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville, France, and now heads the International Olympic Committee's inspection team for Turin.

There are construction concerns in Turin, just as there were in Athens. For instance, will the bobsled track be built in time?

"We have asked our friends in Turin to accelerate preparations," Jacques Rogge, IOC president, said. "We are sure they will deliver, but a sense of urgency is needed. It is the same thing we asked our Athens friends."

A long-standing concern has been Turin's plan to split action between the city and the mountains an hour's drive away. The ice sports will be in Turin, the snow sports in the mountains. Will it work? It worked well in Salt Lake City and Nagano, less so in Lillehammer and Albertville.

These Winter Games will be the first Olympics in Italy since the Summer Games in Rome in 1960, but much of the nation has welcomed their approach with a ho-hum attitude.

Turin is tucked into northwest Italy, away from Rome, Milan, Naples and Florence. Long Fiat's base, it is the Detroit of Italy -- a car-company town -- and hardly a must-see on the Italian tourist circuit.

That's why local bidders sought the Games -- to change Turin's image, in the way that Barcelona used the 1992 Games to promote itself. That's also why the rest of Italy has been lukewarm, the Games seen as a regional, not national, phenomenon.

Rogge and Killy are to meet with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi next month, hoping to increase support throughout the country.

In a further effort to generate wider support, the Olympic torch for the Turin Games relay will be presented next January -- in Milan. The relay will start Dec. 8, 2005 -- in Rome. The flame will travel throughout the country, in Palermo for Christmas, Naples for New Year's, Cortina d'Ampezzo -- site of the 1956 Winter Games -- on Jan. 26, 2006, the 50th anniversary of the opening ceremony there.

Perhaps most pressing for the Turin Games, however, are questions about the management structure, leadership abilities and the lack of business and sports experience at the top of the Turin 2006 organizing committee.

Unlike recent organizing committees -- in Sydney in 2000, Salt Lake City in 2002, here in Athens -- there is no sole undisputed chief executive. Key responsibilities are often shared by the committee's president, former Turin mayor Castellani; deputy president Evelina Christillin, and chief executive Paolo Rota.

"We are what we are," Christillin said here. "We cannot turn ourselves into movie stars."

She also said, "We are totally aware of our problems," but pledged that things would work out, just as they did in Athens. "We are sure our Games will be good Games."

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