Turin badly lacking Olympic buzz

TURIN, Italy -- The motto, hanging from the banners on the streets, reads "Passion Lives Here."

This is either a bold-faced lie or a remarkably bad translation of "We Couldn't Care Less."

That's one of the first things that hits you as you arrive to take the temperature of Torino 2006. In covering 14 Olympics, I don't recall one with less of a feel of anticipation or excitement.

Indeed, upon arrival, you get the feeling that you've made a dreadful mistake and arrived several weeks early.

The brand-spanking- new Regina-sized airport terminal building is still partially a construction site. At the media village, the phones aren't hooked up in the rooms and the media subcentre is not up and running yet. It was something like that as the first wave of athletes arrived at their village. And from venue to venue there's the sense that they'll be ready in time, but just.

GET YOUR HEAD AROUND IT!

"You have to get your mind wrapped around this city and this country. They are very laid back. They say, 'We'll be ready when we're ready,' " said Dan Craig, the NHL's ice-maker who has been here preventing a major disaster for the hockey show.

"They say, 'Don't tell me you want me ready two days before because we don't need to be.'

"We had to make some major changes to their original plans for ice in the hockey buildings. There was no way, with what they had planned, to have NHL-calibre ice for three games a day," said the former icemaker of the league's best in Edmonton.

"In the last two weeks, believe me, the standard is 100% better that what we had here before."

There is no lack of Canadians here to confirm the first impression that Turin isn't exactly turned on to the greatest show on snow. Turin is not a winter sports city. The grass is green. There's no snow. There's little history of winter sports here. Even in the mountains, there's not a real winter sports culture. World Cup events are held on the other side of the Alps, not over here.

"One thing for sure," says Craig. "They don't understand the calibre of talent coming here. That's certainly true in hockey, but also, I think, in most sports."

Turin is soccer, soccer, soccer - Juventus, Juventus, Juventus.

It's also FIAT. In fact, the main press centre is the original FIAT automobile plant, complete with a testing track on the roof.

And chocolate. Chocolate is big here, too.

But Olympics? Not so much.

"From the day I arrived to today, there is still no real sense of being at the Olympics," says Barb McDonald, a Canadian who has been hired to run the media centre at figure skating and short-track speed skating and has been on the scene for five weeks.

"It doesn't feel like there is going to be a major event here in four days," adds McDonald. "And you're right. There isn't the excitement or anticipation of being at an Olympic Centre, like there will be four days before Vancouver 2010."

Thus the slow ticket sales. But that, too, may be a last-minute cultural thing. Maybe this town, by the weekend, will turn on.

McDonald was making the point that one should not jump to the conclusion that this is going to be some sort of horror show.

"North Americans have to come here and leave their Type-A personality at home. Things get done, but not on a North American schedule."

Still, for a Games veteran who remembers the "52-man bobsled" runs in Albertville, it is disconcerting to hear that bus drivers from Sicily and Venice have been brought in and drawn mountain runs.

CIGARETTE BUTTS

When you hear the technical people at cross country skiing are upset at the number of cigarette butts on the course, you wonder about the potential for problems a little unusual for an Olympics.

TV people suggest that while there's a lot of construction material behind the cameras, the five-ring circus is going to look terrific on television.

Turin, while parts of it need a serious scrubbing, also has stunningly beautiful squares and is the best restaurant town between here and Lyon, France, with bars that stay open late.

Torino 2006 is probably going to be a great experience. It's just that you wonder if it's going to be an Olympic experience.