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TORINO: VILLAGE VIBE: Drivers wanted

TORINO: VILLAGE VIBE: Drivers wantedThroughout The Games, the Village Vibe will be a place to read about the random happenings in Sestriere, those things you will not hear about anywhere else. It will be the source for photography, news and how things feel around town, a holistic approach to covering the Games.

You’ll get to know the Ski Racing staff behind the scenes, and meet our friends and journalism colleagues from around the world.

Oh yeah, we are also going to do a few photo galleries, and you can view the latest one by clicking here.

Thursday, Feb. 23
I can only imagine how the Olympics must look back in the United States, especially the coverage of skiing. As you may have read in Black Diamonds, the American media representation here at the Games hasn’t been perfect. Learning what they know about skiing only by reading each other’s columns, the once-every-four-years Olympic beat reporters have covered only topics where a complete set of Cliffs Notes were already available. Namely, Bode Miller.

As the wheels fell off the Bode bus, a new piece of shark bait was dropped into the water: ‘Best in the World.’ Brainchild of U.S. Ski Team CEO Bill Marolt, Best in the World represents the very large, but simply stated goal of the team. This goal applies to the whole organization, and serves as a brand message for not only the Olympic team, but also for the World Cup, and every junior racer, coach, official and parent in the USSA system. It is about a lot more than just the Olympics.

The U.S. Ski Team has not performed poorly, and certainly has not embarrassed itself, but with a low medal count from the U.S. squad here in Torino, the media seems unable to see the forest for the trees and everyone wants to know what the U.S. team’s corporate slogan will be next.

It took some Farfegnugen for Marolt to write ‘Best in the World’ on the wall in the U.S. team office, but it clearly defines the mission. ‘Runner Up’ and ‘Right behind Austria’ just don’t fire me up quite the same way. Canada has already adopted Own the Podium for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, and I’m sure other nations plan to dominate these Winter Games as well. With all of the negative spin from the media, it would be easy for the U.S. team to Run for the Boarder, but I hope they stop to Think before they change the goal of being the Best.

When it comes time to Do the Dew in 2010, and the Heartbeat of America once again falls in the hands of The Few and The Proud of the U.S. team, I hope they Can Bring Good Things to Life. Standing in the start house it will be time for each Army of One to Just Do It again. It won’t matter if it is Delivery or DiGiorno, because there won’t be anything that Brown can do for you, and it will again be clear that being the Best in the World is about more than catchy slogans and gold medals.

Wine of the day
Today’s wine is the Speri Amarone. We enjoyed this bottle with Resi Stiegler and members of her family. You may have read the controversy surrounding her tiger ears last week. Ski Racing was happy to report to her that her ears were cleared for take off, as she had not yet heard.

Monday, Feb. 20
Having been on the ground in Italy for almost two weeks, I’ve heard a lot about ‘The Olympic Spirit.’ Many references have been made to having the Spirit, capturing the Spirit, or promoting it. I guess I don’t really understand what that means. From what I’ve seen, maybe the U.S. Ski Team needs a little more Olympic Spirit; or maybe Bode has had one Spirit too many.

With a few U.S. trips to the podium, and multiple weather delays, I’ve had the opportunity to walk around town looking to find my own Olympic Spirit. I don’t know that I’ve found it yet, but I do know that when I do, it will come at a price.

I started my Spirit search at the corner sporting goods store. The window advertised that it was an official supplier of Olympic merchandise. Inside I found hats, shirts, water bottles, coffee cups, miniature chocolates and golf balls that all proudly display the Torino 2006 logo. Yeah, I said golf balls. You can pick up a sleeve of officially licensed sports paraphernalia for a sport that isn’t played in the Summer or Winter Olympics. That’s what I call Olympic Spirit.

The key to buying the Spirit is to prepare to pay a premium price. Your below-average cotton T-shirt goes for an above-average 27 euros (conversion = more than 30 bucks). There is also a size conversion in Europe. Apparently shoulders aren’t such a big deal in European evolution, because the standard American set won’t fit into a normal European shirt conversion = your American size +1. XL guys, forget it). I found a cap that fit my head just fine, but a dorky set of Elmer Fudd style fold-out earflaps crushed the deal.

Without luck in the sporting good store, I wandered in to ‘Pinky’s’ also an official Olympic supplier of pizza). Everything seemed normal through the meal. No logos on the pie, no Olympic rings on the napkin. I didn’t find out what gave it the official designation until they asked for my Visa; the holy grail, purveyor of, and official sponsor of all forms of Olympic Spirit. Pinky’s, you see, had added a 3 euro cover charge to my bill. A nominal fee, they argued, for providing a cold pizza in less than two hours.

Out of money and with less Olympic Spirit than before, I called it a day. On my way home, I stopped to get a few more euros out of the official Olympic bank. I bought an overpriced, yet official, Coca-Cola and hopped on the bus home. In the Spirit of things, however, I guess I’m still having a pretty good time.

Wine of the day
Today’s wine is the Chateau Croix de Thomas Bordeaux, from France. It was provided by a friend and avid reader from just over the French/Italian border who was concerned that I have only been discussing Italian wine. For the record, if you go to an Italian market and ask for French wine, the level of service declines dramatically. So our friend snuck the wine through security and presented it to us here in the press room. We haven’t opened it, in fact, we are all just staring at it. The Bordeaux wins automatic wine of the day status for the effort taken to deliver it to us. In other news, France got the silver medal in men’s GS today. The Austrians got gold, but the rumor is that Austrian wine is pretty bad. So for one day, politics aside, we’ll raise a glass with France.

Saturday, Feb. 18
It has been snowing hard in Sestriere, and the snow continues to fall. The heavy snow has caused a delay or cancellation of many of the skiing events, so it has given us time to relax in the village and watch some of the other Olympic sports.

I guess I don’t understand the skeleton, maybe you don’t either. I know it involves a sled and a tight suit and sort of looks like a face-first luge. I don’t know anything on the history of the sport, and the advantage of writing a blog versus an article is that I don’t have to. Absent fact, I can only imagine that one afternoon on the luge track, a decision was made that things just were not as fun as they used to be.

‘You know, I’m bored’ said one luger to another. ‘Yeah, me too’ the other replied.

‘You think we should try it headfirst?’

From the commentary on the sport, I’ve learned that the start is really important. Like, really important. A
ccording to what I can interpret from the commentary, all of the podium spots are determined in the start, and anyone in the top 10 is there because of a great start. On television, ‘starting’ looks a lot to me like running about 20 yards with a sled and jumping on face-first, like I used to do when I was a kid.

So to be a great skeletor (that may not be the official term) you really only have to be a good runner on ice. It seems to me that a lot of time and money could be saved if we just collected the world’s elite skeletors for a quick 100-yard dash across a frozen lake.

At the end of the dash, maybe there could be a big pile of rocks and two janitors.

‘OK, great run. Now take this pile of rocks and slide it toward those two janitors out there in the middle of the lake. We’ve been having a problem with the rocks curling over to the left a bit. So if you need to, tell those janitors to sweep off a little snow in the direction you want the rocks to slide. If anyone else’s rocks hit yours, you lose.’

‘Oh yeah, and I almost forgot, you’ve all got to wear these bowling shirts.’

The skeleton and curling event combination seems no less likely to me than the biathlon. With half of its roots in ski racing, I’m embarrassed to say that I’m a little uneducated on the principles behind the sport. I mean, I understand nordic skiing, and I understand shooting a gun at a target, I’m just not sure how those two fit together. I hate to move on without a little more research, so a quick search of the Internet led me to the Web site of USA Biathlon, which reads:

The Winter Olympic Sport Combining Cross Country Skiing and Rifle Marksmanship

Seems simple to me — maybe I do understand the biathlon. There are unconfirmed reports that Dick Cheney had a short career as a winter biathlete. Calls to the White House were not immediately returned, but there is speculation that confusion between ‘target’ and ‘teammate’ were what brought that career to a close.

Wine of the day
Today’s wine is the Teresa Rizzi Della Torre Prosecco Spumante V.S.Q. It is a champagne that we enjoyed with members of the executive staff of the U.S. Ski Team. Those guys are working really hard, so when we had the chance to sit down with them for dinner, we took it.

The champagne arrived at our table on the house to celebrate the gold medal of overnight rock star Ted Ligety. Keep it up Ted, we’re overbudget on the wine-of-the-day program and we can use all the help we can get.

Wednesday, Feb. 15
Most days it is great to be an American — Tuesday was one of those days.

After a ‘tough’ opener, the U.S. Ski Team took a fair amount of criticism in the press, particularly the American press. (For clarification, the U.S. media defined ‘tough’ with Miller’s fourth in the downhill, .11 out from the podium.) And then Tuesday night, Ted Ligety laid down a fantastic combination of runs in the combined to bring home the gold medal. Ligety is just the fourth male in history on the U.S. alpine team to win Olympic gold. So after a few press obligations, it was time to party.

The U.S. Ski Team is host of ‘USA House’ a converted Irish bar that serves as the social embassy for Americans and the U.S. team, and Tuesday night that place rocked. Coaches, servicemen and even Ligety’s parents were on hand to raise a glass of champagne in honor of his accomplishments.

The room is filled with the best of Americana. There is Budweiser on tap and Coke in the fridge. American music fills the air. Even four Sprint cell phones are available in the corner to make free calls home to other Americans. In the quaint village of Sestriere, the U.S. team has created a rockin’ oasis of the comforts of home. This week the house has played host to a number of big names in the ski community. Jeremy and Shannon Nobis have both paid a visit, as has Jonny Moseley. President Bush’s daughter, Barbara, even made a stop. It is a comfortable place to call home, we’re glad to be a part of the family, and we plan to have a few more medals parties there too.

Wine of the day
Today’s wine is the Langhe Nebbiolo. We enjoyed this wine with a table of Ski Racing staff members, and toasted those members of the Ski Racing staff that could not join us here in Italy. As I’m sure you have noticed, SkiRacing.com has had endless coverage and updates of the games. The team on the ground here is working hard to make that happen. Working equally as hard are those back in the office. Their hard work will not go unnoticed as the first Olympic coverage issue should arrive in your mailbox shortly.

Monday, Feb. 13
It is tough to find a ride in Sestriere. There are no cabs, few private cars allowed near the Olympic venues, and the hundreds of buses slowly moving around the mountain roads seem to be doing so absent passengers, with no intent on picking up anyone. So, when Ski Racing acquired the keys to a sporty little Alfa Romeo, with a full set of Olympic driving credentials, it was time to hit the road.

Past travels to the region had led us to a great wine bar in San Sicario, just a few kilometers (conversion = just a few miles) down the valley, and home to the women’s Olympic downhill and super G. We’d promised the owner that when we were back for the Games, we would come visit. So armed with a fast car, and what we thought was the right set of permits, we were on our way.

A quick trip down the valley and up another dropped us at a police checkpoint. It is worth noting that our driver spent time on the Formula 3 circuit, the Europa Cup of Formula 1. So ‘quick trip’ was like no ride I had ever had before. A few hand gestures and confusing words in Italian indicated that maybe our permits weren’t exactly ‘All Access.’ ‘It will be all right’, explained our driver. ‘If we just keep moving like we know what we are doing, everything will be just fine.’

There were a lot of policemen at this checkpoint, but none of them seemed to be interested in doing more than waving their arms and shouting in Italian. Unable to understand what they were saying, we agreed that it was possible they were cheering for us, as we might be the leaders of some World Cup rental-car driving competition.

A few minutes later, I looked down the valley to see a stream of police cars racing up the road. The deliberate manner with which they joined us indicated that we may not be winning a race, but we were certainly now the grand marshals of a new Olympic parade.

Security has been interesting at the Winter Games, security volunteers and police outnumber fans and athletes 2-1. There are X-ray machines and metal detectors at every venue, vehicle checkpoints at most intersections and even two military surveillance planes flying overhead.

With all of this, however, I have wandered lost and twice ended up inside the walls of the highly secured athletes’ village, and found no objection to my presence once inside. So it came as no surprise when the police chase suddenly ended. Somehow we had won; the parade was over. Maybe it was lunchtime, who knows. Just as quickly as they had arrived, the police cars retreated. We arrive at the wine bar safely, and just in time, the fondue was almost ready.

Wine of the day
Today’s wine is Barbaresco. We’re not sure what vineyard it was from, we just know it was good. It was served to us by our friend at the wine bar, whom we had met over the summer. He said, “Trust me, it is
fine wine.” And it was. After fine Barbaresco and a good lunch, we filled the trunk with wines from his store and returned to Sestriere.

Saturday, Feb. 11
When I woke up this morning, I had not showered in three days. I have not shaved since I came to Europe, and it will be at least three days before I can do either again. ‘This whole apartment is stupid’ exclaimed Ski Racing senior editor Nate Vinton on our first morning in Sestriere. Nate was coming out of the shower, and woke the rest of us up to explain. ‘And that shower, that shower is really stupid, I’m going back to bed, I have soap in my hair.’

Having arrived late the night before, none of us had taken the time, or even cared, to inspect the facilities. We were all happy to have a bed and knew that we should rest for the long days that would lie ahead. As Nate stumbled around cursing the shower, the rest of the team woke up and prepared to take showers. ‘Don’t bother’ Nate snarled, ‘the shower is stupid.’ ‘Stupid’ has come to describe lots of things about our apartment, but it most accurately describes the shower.

As we wandered around the apartment in a jet-lagged fog, Nate gave a short recap of the experience he had just completed. ‘So there is no way to turn on the water without completely soaking the floor, the doors open right where the water shoots out and there is no way to avoid it’ he begins. ‘I thought that was a big deal, but then I realized that the volume of water coming from Point A’ Nate said as he pointed to the sky, ‘is larger than the capacity of the drain at Point B. By the time I got the doors closed, water was already running out onto the floor.’

Having now warned us of the flood stage of the bathroom, he then told us that he had run out of hot water.

Traveling with reporters gives one an exciting sense of reality, because reporters deal in hard facts. And the facts in this story were immediately clear:

1. Thirty seconds is the maximum flow of heated water.
2. That amount of time, even for one, makes showering the newest Olympic event.
3. We can’t all shower on the same day, and non-shower use of hot water will not be possible. We developed a shower rotation, and everyone will get a shower every third day.

Drawing the shortest straw gave me ample time to research my options. With two previous shower reports, and team discussions of strategy and technique, I was now prepared to fly my own solo mission into the flooded lagoon.

Having seen Nate return with a head full of lathered shampoo, I decided that pre-soaping of all relevant body parts might make things more efficient when I got to the front line, but was unable to sort out the logistics behind the idea.

I had just enough time to get my hair wet and soap about half of my body before the hot water was gone. The cold water in the mountains of Italy is really cold, so I had no choice but to retreat and hope for better luck next time.

Wine of the day
Today’s wine is the
Barolo Pichemej. It was back for a second night at Barbara’s. We’d learned the night before that the wine and food were pretty good, and Barbara has already developed a crowd of American regulars. As we sat, we overheard two gentlemen discussing the possibility of restarting the Pro Tour in the United States. While we were not able to eavesdrop on the whole conversation, it was clear that they had discussed this possibility with athletes and sponsors, and that the tour will carry a pretty large cash purse.

Friday, Feb. 10
Whenever I travel to a new place, I like to spend as much time as possible learning about and enjoying the culture with which I have surrounded myself.

Fortunately, my job with Ski Racing has taken me to a lot of really great places. However, I’ve been to Italy three times this year, and there are still many things about life here that I cannot understand. For instance, I’ve been unable to figure out why they have bus schedules. In fact, I’m not sure why they have schedules for anything; nothing seems to happen on time. Shops and restaurants open and close at will. Some have hours posted on the door, but that rarely corresponds to what happens inside.

Last year at the Alpine World Championships in Bormio, a television strike rescheduled the men’s GS and sent the week into a tailspin. What I have learned, however, is that only Americans seem to be bothered by this pace, and that the easiest way to cope is to slow down and enjoy it with them.

In an effort to slow down, fit in and enjoy ourselves here in Italy, the Ski Racing staff performed some quick research on the common threads that connect European culture. It took only a short time to realize that everyone who is enjoying life here in Italy is almost always doing it in the presence of red wine. As such, in an effort to provide the most realistic commentary on what is happening here at the Winter Games, Ski Racing will now provide ‘Wine of the Day’ as a regular department of the Village Vibe.

It is another tough assignment for our staff, but a goal we are committed to seeing through to the end. We will not tell you anything about the balance, aroma or the brix; we don’t know anything about that. Besides, all of the wine in Italy is pretty good. What we will do is tell you how we enjoyed it and with whom. And if the Italians have anything to say about it, that will take all night.

Wine of the day
Today’s wine is the Brunello di Montalcino. Even for wine idiots like ourselves, we know this is a great wine, and we can tell by the way people look at us when it arrives at the table that we have made a good selection and, at least for the evening, have been accepted as honorary Euros.

We enjoyed the Brunello at Ristorante il Barbasel, the restaurant of former Italian ski racer Barbara Merlin. Barbara was a three-time Olympian for the Italian team and rode shotgun to Picabo Street in the Cortina downhill in January 1995. After retiring from the team at the end of the 1999-2000 season, Merlin opened a ski school in Sestriere. Her love of people drove her to open her restaurant in 2004.

‘I like the contact with the people’ she explained, ‘they are happy when they are here on holiday.’ Like many of the Sestriere business owners, Merlin was nervous about low attendance for the Games. ‘January was really quiet, we have all been waiting for the Olympics. We are now very excited because we know a lot of people will come for the Olympics.’

Thursday, Feb. 9, 2006
‘You’re going to the Olympics, you’re so lucky, I’m jealous’ we’ve heard from many friends and family back home. Don’t get me wrong, we are lucky, and do have some of the best jobs in the world, but quaint Italian villas, long red wine lunches on the sun deck and private ice skating lessons with Sasha Cohen are not part of the program.

The village of Sestriere, mountain hub of ski competition of the Olympic Winter Games, is buzzing with anticipation, and preparation, for the coming events. Modern business management courses in the United States teach ‘Just in Time’ delivery, where the idea is basically that different components of production are delivered just as they are needed, but not before.

Italy, on the other hand, must be teaching their students the similar but modified ‘Almost in Time’ method. Contractors and work crews are diligently laboring today, seemingly without regard for the fact that the whole show starts officially in about 24 hours. Hopefully everything will be ready almost in time to get started tomorrow.

After about 20 hours of travel, I arrived in Milan. Milan, originally advertised by the Torino Olympic Committee (TOROC) as a ‘Gateway city to the
Games’ somehow lost that status sometime between when I booked my flight and when I arrived. The bus that I planned to take from Milan to the mountains of Sestriere had been moved to Torino, a bus ride, two trains and three hours away. I later learned that the Torino bus to Sestriere was almost ready, but not yet operating. I came to understand it would be a series of two buses, two trains and a stroke of luck to get there.

Fortunately, I had my own stroke of luck in Milan and ran into U.S. Ski Team member Bryon Friedman, who had arrangements for a private car. Bryon is still sidelined from an injury sustained in Chamonix last year, but will be here for the Games and then will travel to Africa with friends for additional down time.

Bryon’s car dropped me in the center of Sestriere, right near a building labeled ‘Information Torino 2006.’ Having been here over the summer, I remembered that this building contained many people, but little ‘information’ but I decided to give it a try anyway. I was in search of my apartment and press credential. While I knew I’d be unable to acquire either of these in this building, I had hoped that the ‘information agents’ as it said on their nametags, could point me in the right direction. To make a long story short, the agents had no idea where to find either of these things, and they seemed unaffected by the fact that ‘Torino 2006′ is well under way and lots of people are going to want ‘information.’ ‘I’m sorry sir, we have not yet been trained in these things’ said one of the agents in broken English, ‘maybe if you return tomorrow we could assist you then.’

I finally found the accommodations desk, and then my apartment. It looked small, but nice, from the outside. As I tried to put my key in the door, I realized that outside is where I would be for awhile. The wrong set of keys put me back about an hour. I went back to the accommodations desk for a new set. ‘I’m sorry sir, we are getting you a new set of keys which are almost ready.’

In the short time we have been here, Ski Racing has found that everything is ‘almost ready’ but we hope you see on our Web site and in the print edition of our magazine that we have been ready for quite some time. Over the next three weeks you will see the best that Ski Racing has to offer. You will see unrivaled coverage of ski competition, behind-the-scenes interviews with coaches and athletes, and, of course, the events, parties and gossip that make our jobs fun.

We hope that our words make you feel like you are here, drinking fine red wine on the deck of our villa.

What do you think?


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