Turin lacking in spirit

TURIN -- The colour of the sky is a telling murky grey. The denseness of the thick air never seems to change.

Such is the gloomy shade of these unspectacular and indistinguishable Turin Games in the least charming city of a most charming country as Day 12 of the Olympics plows on.

The wonder of every Olympic Games comes from its individual flavour, its own feel, its own temperature. Here, there almost is a separation between Games and city, between tourists and locals. The separation seems as vast the distance between the Medals Plaza and the many mountainous towns of the dreary Italian Alps.

There is an Olympics going on, and inside the venues there are thrills and excitement and noise and achievement, as there always is. The Norwegians are screaming at cross country, the Dutch forever creating a heart beat at speed skating, the Canadians ruling the hockey rinks.

But there is next to no indication the people who live here are anything more than conscientious objectors to the entire Olympic experience.

"One of the reasons we decided to bid for the Olympics was to change's Torino's identity," Valentino Castelanni, president of the Torino Organizing Committee, said.

But that may not be happening here. There is wonderment about the Games, not so much about the city. The disconnection between public and Olympic family is apparent. And because of that, the city has a feeling of flatness to it, almost an apathetic estrangement from the Games itself.

This is my 11th time covering an Olympic Games, the ninth different country. Each trip takes you places you never thought possible, witnessing events that take even a cynic's breath away.

Some of the Games I've adored, didn't want to leave, wanted to soak up every piece of atmosphere and life. Some I've despised and couldn't wait to go home.

The feeling here, like the weather, is lukewarm and blase.

An ambivalent Olympic Games in a place where the facilities are more than fine, the security is not overt, the transportation works on most occasions and there have been limited number of drug busts.

That works in Turin's favour for its ability to pull off this Rubik's Cube of an event. The lack of excitement, atmosphere away from venues, the lack of passion, hurts.

There just has been no face of the Games, not a smiling volunteer, not a moment to grab on to. Just distance and coldness and a shrug of disinterest that belies what the Olympics at its best can be.

There has been almost no snow in Turin and, in some cases, not enough in the mountains, and here, at just about the warmest Winter Olympics in terms of temperature, there is an unspoken frostiness to these Games.

In fairness, this isn't Albertville, where the Olympics were held in 1992.

This isn't disdain with smoke blown in your face.

We are not treated as intruders -- although quality service here could be considered an oxymoron -- but there is no fascination with the Olympics. And for that, athletes, spectators, and tourists even, aren't getting what they bargained for.

This is an industrial city fallen on hard times, reaching out financially to pull off this event. That was the goal. But here in the home of Juventus and Fiat, the notion of Turin as a tourist location is baffling.

In a country with Rome and Florence and Tuscany and more, why would anyone come here? For what?

This is where the city and its distant people have failed.

In Lillehammer, Norway, 12 years ago, in the coldest place I've ever been, the warmth was extreme. The joy was overwhelming. The Olympic spirit was engaging and alive.

That was the greatest of all Winter Games, nudging out the Olympics in Calgary in 1988. That, too, was a wondrous few weeks for everyone but Canadian athletes. The streets were filled with people just wanting to be part of whatever was going on.

Just not here, not this week.

In fairness, a very small part of this city is picturesque -- old buildings, historical architecture -- but too much of it has smoke blowing from factories or cigarettes, air you don't want to breathe, a thick haze that becomes refreshed only with a two-hour trip to the mountain venues.

An Olympics shouldn't be defined by the quality of its food, its red wine and its chocolate, but that is what has happened here. That's what people are talking about.

These are the Games of eating excess. Pizza. Pasta. Panini. Caprese. Zuppe. These are the Menu Olympics. I may not come home with a whole lot of memories, but I will come home in desperate need of a dietician. Even the Freeky Fries, one of the great snack foods ever invented, is memorable.

The people haven't been.

The city hasn't been.

You want an Olympics to be everything it can.

This one is too much like a weather report of Turin: Grey and cloudy.