Turin echoes Athens

TURIN – In just 100 days the world’s elite winter athletes will gather for the 20th Winter Olympic Games in the former Italian industrial capital of Turin. Preparations have been compared to Athens’s last-minute race to get ready for the 2004 Summer Olympics, as the northwestern city resembles a vast building site, complete with traffic diversions and the sounds of pneumatic drills. A new underground metro system, high-speed rail links to Paris and Milan and a new central train station are some of the major works in progress, but these will not be completed until 2008. The first line of the metro is due to open at the end of December linking the central Porta Nuova railway station and the neighboring Collegno district. But the planned link as far as Lingotto, the historic home of Fiat, which is the site of one of the three Olympic villages, will only begin after the Games, along with links between the Turin stations. In the town center, the Piazza San Carlo, one of Europe’s finest squares, has been gutted to build an underground car parking facility which should be finished by the end of the year. Tempers are running short among shop owners. «There’s nothing but problems! It’s impossible to shop in the town,» complained Sabina Torre, manager of the Zizu clothes store under one of the Piazza’s arcades. «The situation is very difficult but let’s hope that the city will reap the rewards shortly,» said taxi driver Riccardo di Stasio. In the Alpine sites, 80 kilometers from Turin, the sporting infrastructures are ready but the secondary fittings are still not finished. Sestrieres, which will host Alpine skiing, is still under construction, as is the bobsleigh run at Cesana. By comparison, Pragelato, which will host the nordic skiing and ski jump events, say they are set for the February 10-26 extravaganza which will transform the sleepy village of 570 inhabitants. And Valentino Castellani, president of Turin’s organizing committee (TOROC), is confident they will be ready in time for Italy’s first Winter Games since Cortina d’Ampezzo in 1956. Just a year ago, Castellani, a former leftist mayor of Turin, threatened to resign from TOROC amid criticism from Italy’s right-leaning government and a shortfall of 180 million euros out of a total budget of 1.175 billion euros. Castellani stayed on but must now work with a government appointed supervisor, Mario Pescante, a sports and cultural undersecretary and International Olympic Committee (IOC) member. Castellani insists that all parties are now pulling together, and are preparing a showcase which will transform a city previously dominated by troubled car manufacturer Fiat. «The image of an industrial city and Fiat is one of the past. «Turin is going to show its organizational abilities and rekindle its links with the mountains,» Castellani told AFP. «The sporting installations are finished. Among the final sites under construction speed staking will be tested at the Oval during the World Cup in December while the Palasport will host its first ice hockey tournament in November’s Six Nations. «The most delicate point remains logistics, in particular transport. The opening day of the Games will be crucial for that. «We’re discouraging the use of cars. In Turin public transport will be free for ticket holders and at Sestrieres cars will be banned apart from rare exceptions.» Castellani is not worried by the fact that only 60 percent of tickets have been sold so far. «We’re ahead of Athens or Sydney at the same time,» he said. «Italy, outside Turin and Piedmont, have not been forthcoming but the passage of the Olympic Flame in December should give sales another boost.» Concerning the budget shortfall, the Games are suffering from the current economic situation in Italy, he said. But Castellani added: «The situation isn’t at all worrying. The total cost of the Games has reached 3.4 billion euros. The 30 million euros concerned is less than 1 percent of the budget, which isn’t unusual in this type of business. «All organizing committees have had this type of problem. We have kept costs under control, which was not the case of Athens, for example.»

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