Oympic Flame in Turin for tonight’s opening ceremony

TURIN (AFP) – After 64 days of travel, the Olympic Flame has finally arrived in Turin to begin the countdown to tonight’s lavish Opening Ceremony extravaganza for the 20th Winter Olympic Games, when the cauldron will be lit. Over 10,000 torch-bearers have carried the torch on its 11,300-kilometer odyssey from the lighting of the flame at Olympia in Greece two months ago to northern Italy. Shortly before midday local time yesterday, the torch entered the city through the Piazza Massaua, where it was received by the City Police Band and convoyed toward the city center. The emblem of Torino 2006 was set to pass through the streets of Piedmont’s chief town before being welcomed by Mayor Sergio Chiamparino at the City Hall yesterday evening. The last torchbearer of the day will be Turin-born Livio Berruti, the 200m gold medalist at the 1960 Rome Olympics, who will light the Cauldron in Piazza Palazzo di Citta at 7.30 p.m. local time. Mystery still surrounds the name of the lighter of the Olympic cauldron tonight. Press reports speculated that a group of former Italian sporting heroes in alpine and nordic skiing would do the honors. Cross-country skiier Stefania Belmondo, the most successful Italian athlete at the Winter Olympics with 10 medals, skier Deborah Compagnoni and Alberto Tomba, and 1994 Olympic gold medalists from the nordic skiing relay team are among those named. «I can’t say but the names given are those of the finalists. Let’s surprise the public,» Turin organizing committee vice president Evelina Christillin told AFP. But Christillin said that «the structure of the cauldron has nothing to do» with the eventual choice of the lighter. The cauldron, designed by Pininfarina, is fed by five tubes. The solution of using a group of athletes would however solve a problem of who to choose. Triple Olympic champion Tomba, winner of the gold medal in the slalom and giant slalom in 1988 and the giant slalom in 1992, has been heavily involved in the organization of the Games. Belmondo, who comes from the region, has become an emblem of anti-doping, and said recently that she would «take it badly» if she was excluded from the final team of carriers. The Olympic Brazier, which stands 57 meters tall, will be visible from all points of the city until the Games end on February 26. But tickets remain unsold for tonight’s opening ceremony at the Stadio Olimpico, built by Benito Mussolini in 1933. The stadium holds 35,000 spectators with approximately 2 billion television viewers worldwide expected to watch the ceremony. Organizers have reduced ticket prices in the hope that excitement generated by the Games will lead to a last-minute buying spree like in the Summer Games two years ago in Athens. «I am rather confident that we shall reach our targets for ticketing sale,» said TOROC President Valentino Castellani, the city’s former mayor. This will be the second time that Italy has hosted the Winter Games, as it hosted the VII Olympic Winter Games in Cortina d’Ampezzo in 1956, and the third time overall after hosting the 1960 Rome Summer Games.

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