Once the paint dried and the people grew accustomed to their visitors, Turin began making progress in running the 2006 Winter Olympics. With a little more practice, this place should be humming right around the time a new Peace Bridge is constructed and the Aud reopens with Bass Pro.
Conditions did improve as the Winter Games moved along, which is to say a simple task that once took 20 minutes now takes 15. Hey, what can you do? It's Italy.
Turin's motto for these Games was "Passion Lives Here." OK, where? Anybody could have had tickets for these Games. The United States-Finland men's hockey game was going for $4. How can any self-respecting scalper make a living?
The United States might be best served splitting town as soon as possible, kind of like its men's hockey team. The Americans finished with 25 medals, second behind Germany, but they failed to meet their own standards. The Yanks captured nine gold medals. Snowboard dudes and speedskaters accounted for six gold and 14 medals overall, while the rest spent the better part of two-plus weeks choking and claiming it wasn't about the medals.
Right, just like professional athletes say it's never about the money when they sign a five-year contract for $50 million.
Nobody expected the United States to leave Turin with 34 medals, as it did Salt Lake City four years ago. But the Americans certainly expected more production from supposed star athletes who came to Italy to win but embarrassed themselves more. And that's just Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick. Are we finally done with these guys?
The Italians couldn't get enough of the Flying Tomato, half-baked half-piper Shaun White, but they had more than their share of Bode Miller. He finished oh for the Olympics, medal-less rather than medalist.
"Me, it's been an awesome two weeks," he told the Associated Press after blowing off the rest of the media. "I got to party and socialize at an Olympic level."
So he had that going for him, which was nice.
The Olympics wouldn't be complete without controversy, which overshadowed some terrific stories. It started early with Wayne Gretzky getting swallowed in the betting scandal. It continued with Italian police raiding Austria's living quarters and finding drug paraphernalia. The cops also blew out the windows of a parked car with Spanish license plates that was left running. Turns out the subsequent drug test was negative, and the suspicious car was a false alarm.
Christine Keshen overslept for her curling match against Norway but showed up in the third end, which is like pitcher Randy Johnson waking up in the sixth inning.
>Lots of disappointments
Ironically, these Olympics could be remembered as the Games people would just as soon forget. The big U.S. names fell one by one right up until Sasha Cohen landed on her fanny in women's figure skating. The women's hockey team has gone from gold to silver to bronze in the past three Winter Games, a trend that could leave it off the medals stand in four years.
At least it was better than the men's team, which finished eighth after losing in a quarterfinal matchup with Finland. Mike Modano was the only player who skipped a meeting to discuss the team's travel itinerary, presumably because he learned how to use a telephone and make plans himself. Keith Tkachuk had no goals and was minus-3 through his first five games. Then he started playing badly.
The late Herb Brooks, who coached the Yanks to the Miracle on Ice in 1980, must be spinning in his grave.
As always, there were tales seeping out of the venues, many of which were either half-empty or filled with schoolchildren under the guise Italy actually cared.
Did you see Tanith Belbin? Or better yet, Katarina Witt?
Canadian Sara Renner broke her pole during a cross-country ski race, but a Norwegian coach handed her a replacement in the middle of the race. She teamed with Beckie Scott to win the silver medal. Norway finished fourth, sacrificing a medal but gaining worldwide respect for sportsmanship.
If you can't get inspired by the Chinese pairs figure skating team of Dan and Hao Zhang, you don't have a heartbeat. Dan, the woman, tore a groin muscle while taking a nasty spill. How she regained her feet is a mystery considering one skate landed in Turin, the other in Venice. But she gathered herself, finished the program and captured the silver medal.
Jeret "Speedy" Peterson finished seventh for the United States in men's aerials, respectable considering what he endured over the summer. He opened his apartment in Park City, Utah, to a troubled friend. One day, Peterson walked through the door and found his friend with a gun to his head. Before Peterson had a chance to intervene, his buddy pulled the trigger.
You couldn't help but sympathize with Speedy. Then what happens? He punches a longtime friend, breaking his nose and two teeth, after a night of drinking in the mountains, and he promptly gets kicked out of Italy.
>Canadians held back
Italian goaltenders Debora Montanari and Luna Frasnelli combined for 50 saves in the opener against Canada -- and still lost by 16 goals. Canada was criticized for running up the score, but it actually spent the tournament controlling the score. Canada could have named the score for the gold medal game, beating Sweden, 4-1. It could have been 14-1.
Speedskating is a national sport in the Netherlands. If it weren't for its fans, the Oval Lingotto would have had more reporters than spectators. They applaud every skater section by section as the competitors cruise around the track. You can't help but wonder if they invented the wave.
People spent half their time making fun of the curlers, which was good because they laugh at themselves. Quick question: They're competitors, but are they athletes? Canadian curler Glenys Bakker, a 43-year-old mother who once breastfed her child during breaks of her event, was asked about the perception of curlers.
"It's that we're a bunch of beer-swilling partyers," Bakker said. "Here, it's red wine."