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AP Blogs From the Olympics

February 10, 2006

AP staffers from around the world have gathered in Turin, Italy, for the Winter Olympics. They’ll be filing reports on the sights, sounds and the atmosphere of the games, which begin with the opening ceremony tonight.

FRIDAY, Feb. 10, 3:13 p.m. local

TURIN, Italy

Olympic athletes travel all over the world for their sports, seeing things most of us only dream of. One competition blends into another until they become another part of the job.

But there’s still something special about the Olympics.

When French ice dancers Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat took the ice at the Palavela, 2002 gold medalist Gwendal Peizerat stood in the stands taking pictures with a digital camera. At first I thought it was a training tool, pictures to help them see what they were doing on the ice. But after watching for a few minutes, I realized it was something much different.

They wanted photos of them with the Olympic logo in the middle of the ice.

Peizerat followed them as they skated around the rink, snapping picture after picture as soon as the Turin Games logo came into view. When they finished their program, they stood at the center of the ice, grinning as he took a few more photos.

The couple, 11th at the European championships last month, aren’t close to contending here. But they’ll always have their souvenirs.

_ Nancy Armour


FRIDAY, Feb. 10, 10:50 a.m. local

TURIN, Italy

As many of my colleagues are marveling at the various delights of Turin, I think I’m among the few who have been here before and worked at one of the Olympic venues. So I got an early taste of the city and the Olympics, especially since most of the other venues were completed only recently.

The 2005 European Figure Skating Championships were held at the Palavela 13 months ago. I spent a week here and got to know the city and the places around the skating rink. At that time they had barely finished renovating the rink a week before. The smell of fresh paint and the sight of workers still laying down electric lines and making late repairs were common.

In returning to the rink this time, everything was completed. The colors inside were a bit different, and it was a lot warmer. All the Russians who won titles at the 2005 Europeans are the gold-medal favorites for the Olympics. Tatiana Totmianina, who is the pairs favorite with partner Maxim Marinina, was among those in the stands checking out the place again, even though she had bypassed practice because she arrived early in the morning.

One of the things I looked forward to was the restaurant across the street from the arena, continuing a pre-competition ritual.

There are lots of Italian restaurants around, and a lot of Chinese restaurants. But I enjoyed dining again at the Chinese-Italian restaurant. It’s staffed by Italian-speaking Chinese who answer me in ``prego″ when I use my rudimentary Chinese I learned.

The menu has the list of pizzas on one side of the menu and the Chinese meals on the other side.

_ Salvatore Zanca


THURSDAY, Feb. 9, 8:22 p.m. local


The winding road down to the farmhouse didn’t seem too daunting.

After all, I’d already climbed about two miles up a snow-laden peak to spend the afternoon in rustic villages _ and it was just a short detour to the cinder block-and-timber barn where I’d been told there were cows for making Alpine cheeses.

There was not a person in sight as I made my way down. I took in the charming scene of geese waddling around a ramshackle chicken coop, against a background of soaring peaks and pine forests.

Then the barking started.

Five mongrel dogs were looking straight at me as they bared their teeth and dared me to come closer. It wasn’t so much the barking that caused me to sweat, but the low, guttural growl that preceded each eruption into high-pitched yelping.

I called out a greeting to the people inside the barn. No response. Then one of the dogs broke away from the pack, darted over _ and started to lick my hand.

I now had a strategy: Make a friend of this mutt with dirty yellow fur and have him lead the way to the farmhouse. I bent down, made eye contact, and stretched out a flat palm _ remembering teachers telling me in elementary school that that’s supposed to be some sort of universal doggie sign language for ``I mean you no harm.″

I spent a few moments patting my ally on the head, then gingerly edged toward the barn. A couple steps. Pat dog on head. A couple more. Scratch its chin.

After I’d advanced within about five feet of the farmhouse door, there was a low growl from one of the dogs. One by one, it caught on with the others _ and rose in a rumbling crescendo before breaking into ear-splitting cacophony.

I looked for my friend.

He was behind me, barking too.

Great, I thought, I’m surrounded.

Then I started playing a game of chicken with myself. Am I going to let a bunch of mutts get in the way of my story? After all, the meanest-looking dog is chained to a pole and can’t even get near me. But what if he’s the leader?

The doorbell was just a few steps away, and I decided to make one last attempt to reach my goal. Then I noticed a tiny wooden sign next to the door. It read: Beware of Dogs. Honk Before Getting Out Of Car.

I beat a hasty retreat.

After making it safely up the road, I managed to get the phone number of the dairy farmer from a person I’d interviewed in one of the villages I’d visited. He told me he’d been having lunch with his wife down the valley and agreed to meet me 10 minutes later.

He started to chuckle as I recounted my ordeal.

``Those dogs won’t do anything to you. It’s only the chained one that’s really mean.″

_ Joji Sakurai


THURSDAY, Feb. 9, 6:14 p.m. local

TURIN, Italy

The Italian man bent my right leg back as far as it would go. Then, he dug his fingers into my back and put the full pressure of his weight on the bottoms of my tired feet.

No, we weren’t shooting a new Fellini movie.

Nothing that racy here.

Just 15 minutes of bliss at the Shiatsu massage area in the Main Media Center.

For five hours daily during the Turin Games, members of the media can take their turn getting worked over by white-clad massage therapists.

Visitors sit hunched over in padded chairs or lie face-down on a pad on the floor. I chose the latter, as the masseuse kneaded the pre-Olympic stress out of my arms, legs and torso. I sensed myself dozing off while the cacophony of harried reporters and photographers one floor below melted away.

When he whispered that he was done, I rose slowly, reluctant to leave and wondering if they had a quiet room I could nap in.

Along with the ATMs and the beer counter, the massage area is always one of the most popular features of any Olympic media center. It dates back at least to the 2000 Sydney Games, where massages and facials were offered.

I plan to be a repeat visitor.

_ Beth Harris


THURSDAY, Feb. 9, 6:10 p.m. local

TURIN, Italy

While the Italians have taken some heat for their harried Olympic preparations, they’re pretty good at improvisation. Take the case of the American reporter who showed up in Turin without his all-important credential.

Basically, the credential is the most treasured item for those covering the Olympics, allowing access to venues, transportation, accommodations and the Main Media Center. So it’s not surprising that I was in a state of panic when I realized on my way to the airport that I’d left my credential at my home near Atlanta.

Not wanting to miss my flight, I decided to press on for Italy, hoping I could solve the problem once I got there.

The officials at the Turin airport were not set up to print out a new pass, but they pointed me to the main accreditation center downtown. Since I didn’t have a credential, however, I couldn’t ride the buses that take arriving members of the media into the city.

After a few moments sorting through the language barrier, an English-speaking official hooked me up with a driver and a car from the official motorpool. I hopped in the front seat, while two others in the same predicament _ one from Hungary, another wearing an Italian shirt _ jumped in the back.

After a thrilling half-hour ride into Turin _ for the record, traffic lights appear to be merely advisory, and it’s not uncommon for two cars to cram into one lane _ we arrived at the accreditation facility.

It took about 15 minutes to get my new credential, and the driver was kind enough to wait for me outside. Then he took me to the main press center, which I arrived at much quicker than those who rode buses into the city.

All I could say was, ``Grazie, Torino!″

_ Paul Newberry


THURSDAY, Feb. 9, 5:17 p.m. local


The view took my breath away.

Arriving at the media center in Cesana Pariol, home to the luge, bobsled and skeleton competitions, I began the task of making sure everything _ my computer, telephone and travel-weary brain _ was working, when a journalist from USA Today asked if I had been out to the balcony.

``What balcony?″ I asked.

``Right through those doors,″ he said.

Not knowing what to expect, I pushed the handle, stepped outside the tent onto a wooden deck and into a postcard.

Standing high above the track’s finish line, I was overwhelmed by an awe-inspiring landscape of pine trees under the snow-blanketed Alps, which were every bit as beautiful as I’d been told.

Suddenly, the 27-hour trip from Cleveland, the endless waiting for shuttle buses that never seem to come, and the cold shower this morning at my hotel, disappeared. My first Olympic moment of the Turin Games was yet another reminder of how lucky I am to have the job that I do.

It’s not that I’ve ever taken it for granted, but I’ve been privileged in being able to visit exotic locales and meet interesting people.

Visible from the balcony on the east side of Chaberton is a tunnel connecting Italy and France, as well as a historic reminder of their past. On the French side, you can take a three-hour hike to the top of the mountain, where there are eight gunneries that were used in World War II.

At the valley’s base in the center of charming Cesana, fans can take a five-minute gondola ride to the bobsled venue, or they can stay on all the way to the top to San Sicario Fraiteve. Hopefully, before my two weeks are up, I can take the ride.

For now, though, I’ll settle for a view that gets better every time.

_ Tom Withers


THURSDAY, Feb. 9, 4:26 p.m. local


So my first stroll through the narrow cobblestone streets of this rustic alpine town got sidetracked last night after hardly a block, when I happened to glance through the window of a bar and saw soccer on a large projection screen.

I knew local favorite Juventus was playing, but the uniforms I saw conspicuously lacked the signature vertical black and white stripes of the perennial Serie A juggernaut from Turin. This was Chelsea blue. It was the FA Cup on the BBC, and the crowd inside all spoke the Queen’s English.

Another pub down the street was showing the same game for yet another decidedly English crowd.

I’ve been trying to brush up on my Italian, but it turns out I may not need it as much as I thought in Sauze d’Oulx, home of freestyle skiing for these Winter Games.

Sauze d’Oulx originally was a vacation spot for residents of Turin, but that changed markedly when the Italians tunneled through many mountains to build highways that greatly reduced driving times. The drive from Turin to Sauze d’Oulx became an hour or two, depending on traffic, which meant it was easy to do a day trip instead of staying overnight.

So the town began marketing itself to English tourists as an affordable skiing alternative in the Alps. And for the past several decades, the English have been coming in droves. Combine the English proclivity toward socializing in pubs with the fact that most of them are on vacation and don’t have to wake up early, and you’ve got a town that stays lively late into the night.

_ Brett Martel


THURSDAY, Feb. 9, 4:24 p.m. local

TURIN, Italy

Planes, trains and ... golf carts?

Part of the Canadian snowboarding team was held up for about 15 minutes en route to the Main Media Center in Turin because of Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi’s motorcade of golf carts.

``It was a little frustrating,″ snowboarder Alexa Loo said Thursday afternoon. ``We left Montreal last night, then our connecting flight in Frankfurt was delayed.″

Loo confessed that she’s not a light packer, which added to her woes.

``I was pushing my four bags on cobblestone, hoping somebody could help me,″ she said. ``I was a little grumpy, but I’m over it now and I can laugh about it.″

The team then headed off to Bardonecchia in the Alps after making its only planned trip to Turin.

_ Larry Lage


THURSDAY, Feb. 9, 3:58 p.m. local

TURIN, Italy

``You have beans?″

It shot straight to the top of the list of weirdest questions I’ve been asked at the Olympics.

``Er, no _ and why do you want beans?″ I asked the woman handing out free hygiene products to journalists, courtesy of a sponsor (and let’s not even ask why somebody thought media covering the Turin games need all that soap).

``No, not beans, peans,″ she replied.

The penny dropped.

``Ah, you mean pins?″ I inquired.

``Yes, peans,″ she replied.

In my defense, it was one of my first conversations with an Italian since arriving in Turin, and the first time anybody had asked me for a pin.

Judging by the number of people walking around the media center who were almost bowed under the weight of Olympic pins, it won’t be the last.

_ Mike Corder


THURSDAY, Feb. 9, 7:54 a.m. local

TURIN, Italy

Breadsticks! Gotta talk about breadsticks and hazelnut.

Promotional materials that we got before the games say that breadsticks originated in this region. And it would be hard to believe anywhere else collectively makes them this good. They’ve been excellent everywhere we’ve been.

The area specializes in hazelnut chocolates. And in our modest tastings thus far, they rank with the wine and the breadsticks.

Dolcetto di Dogliani, from the nearby Dogliani region, was our latest wine experiment. Very good, but the favorite so far is still the Barbera D’Asti.

Gray. The sky was gray again yesterday and this morning. There’s one dominant color here. Gray sky, gray buildings, gray sidewalks and streets. Even our snazzy AP jackets are gray. And the London broadcast correspondent working with us is Melissa Gray.

There’s a heck of an after-dinner drink here that’s served with meals at restaurants. It’s a lemon liqueur called lemonciello that has a heck of a taste. It’s been described as Lemon Pledge. It’s served ice cold, and it’s actually pretty good. It cleans the palate, helps the digestion, gives you a sharp wakeup, and sends you off feeling fresh and happy. We’ve grown kind of fond of it.

Food’s slightly expensive. The dinners we’ve been enjoying are very good, but not great, and they’ve been about $30-35 each. Cokes at the local McDonald’s cost $2.20.

AP Broadcast reporter Warren Levinson is going the bicycle route again. He’s bought a bike at past Olympics to get around town, and has done that again here. He’ll sell it at the end of the games. Warren’s expertise is in getting round-the-town stories during the games, and he’s superb at it. Took him 40 minutes to ride home from the Main Media Center last night. The bus ride is 30-35.

On the way in this morning, he passed a piazza where statues of the Olympic mascots are being constructed, but the heads weren’t yet attached. He took a pic. He also says the bus ride from our lodging at Verelengo to the MMC goes through the ugliest part of town, and that there are prettier areas that we haven’t yet seen.

We had an absolute blast last evening at dinner. We’ve found a ‘favorite’ restaurant right behind the MMC, and we’ve become regulars. Some of us haven’t laughed this hard in a long, long time. A lot of the beat writers arrived in town yesterday, and over the years those of us in the broadcast division have built some terrific relationships with the newspaper writers.

One of the best, San Diego-based Bernie Wilson, joined us for last evening’s meal, and others were at nearby tables. The restaurant appears to have become the AP hangout for the games. It’s not unusual for each reporting agency to kind of claim a drinking hole.

We returned to our favorite Barbera D’Asti wine last evening, and I paired it with a superb spinach/green bean salad and a spaghetti with a wild boar meat sauce that was very good.

I also remember a lot of laughter, and at the end of the evening, the lemonciello (I Googled it and the first thing that popped up was a how-to-make-it recipe on a soap company’s site). This time, instead of filling our small glasses halfway up, which is the norm, our waiter, Giovanni, just plopped the bottle on the table. About the second time around filling the glasses, somebody noticed the label that said the alcohol content is 28 percent.

That’s the last thing I remember from last night.

_ Dave Ochs


WEDNESDAY, Feb. 8, 5:35 p.m. local


Bode Miller wasted no time sampling Sestriere’s night life.

After a Tuesday afternoon spent parrying reporters’ questions in Turin, the famously beer-borne skier traveled up the mountain and by early Wednesday morning was checking out the Irish Igloo, the American skiers’ home base bar.

I was walking out after a nightcap with a few photographer friends; Bode was walking toward the door, puzzling over his cell phone. The scene inside: a few dozen folks lounging, laughing, drinking, shooting stick and, in one unfortunate case, dancing in the far corner. Strung across the walls were large images of American stars, including an arms-askew Miller carving downhill at a World Cup race in Colorado.

Though a predictable stop for Bode, other so-called USA Houses have been dubious home turf: While celebrating a super-G victory at another Italian venue, someone thieved his jacket and the medal in one of the pockets. The medal eventually showed back up at the bar; the jacket, who knows.

_ Justin Pritchard

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