Americans unfazed by Italian chaos
BARDONECCHIA, Italy – It’s difficult to walk through one of the Olympic mountain venues in Italy without having to step into a mud puddle to let a piece of heavy machinery drive by.
Cables are being strung, buildings are being moved around and gravel and artificial turf is slowly appearing over the muddy walkways.
About one of every five of the substantial number of Olympic staff members speaks English, and nobody seems completely sure of when and where certain buses come and go.
Luckily, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard teams already know their way around.
“All of us love coming to Italy,” said U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) spokesman Tom Kelly, who is attending his fifth Winter Games. “Having come to Italy quite a bit, you get used to the system. Italy has a lot of chaos, but in the end, it works out great. I don’t anticipate it will be any different here.”
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The International Olympic Committee named Torino and its surrounding area as host for the 2006 Games back in 1999.
On Tuesday in Sestriere Colle, Italy, it was impossible to get into the hospitality area for the alpine racing technical events, because the area is still under construction. Opening ceremonies are Friday in Torino.
When asked if he thought everything would be finished in time for the events, the first of which is men’s combined on Feb. 14, an Olympic worker at the venue said, “I think so.”
When asked why nothing is ready yet, the worker replied, “We started late.”
The U.S. Ski Team was near the area last February for World Championships in Bormio. The snowboard team has been to the Olympic course in Bardonecchia for World Cup events. While the moguls course in Sauze d’Oulx is new, the team has been to the venue before.
“These are venues we’ve competed on a lot,” Kelly said. “The alpine venues, we’ve competed on them for 30 or 40 years. Daron Rahlves won on this exact downhill course in the World Cup finals. Freestyle was on a different venue. This one is completely new. We know the area. So, there’s nothing foreign to this at all.”
Kelly added that there are very few athletes on the team who haven’t been here before.
Snowboarder Elena Hight is one of those in the minority. This trip marks her first to Italy, and the one thing she noticed about Italians was that, in general, their English isn’t as progressive as that of other European countries.
“Everyone be prepared for the city and not being able to talk to anyone,” she said, by way of warning to friends and family in South Lake Tahoe, who will be coming to watch her compete in the halfpipe event on Monday. “Nobody can understand you. Even the staff doesn’t speak very good English.”
Chaotic as preparations may be, most will agree that getting things done late is better than never, and the pace has certainly quickened around the region with around-the-clock finishing touches this last week leading up to the Games. The buzz is in the air. Even the sleepiest of mountain villages is decorated with several billowing flags and banners boasting “Torino 2006.”
“Things like driving around, the hustle and bustle, this can be a country where things move very quickly,” Kelly said. “Things like time tables and scheduling might be a little off. But these are very friendly people. They’re happy to have the Olympics here. They’ve done a lot for the community to make it festive.”