Can Rocca Rev Up Torino? the 2006 Winter Olympics Are Right around the Corner but So Far, the Only Passion for the Games Is Coming from Protesters. Even Italy's New Hometown Hero Can't Spark Excitement the Way la Bomba Did
Byline: Barbie Nadeau
A new sport has taken hold in Italy ahead of the Winter Olympics, which are set to kick off in Torino on Feb. 10. Dubbed "block the torch" by locals, it pits Italy's ardent anarchists against Olympic organizers trying to generate excitement by relaying the Olympic torch across the country. So far Olympic spirit is losing. In late December, anarchists in Genoa actually blew out the flame for 20 minutes during a protest against Coca-Cola as an Olympic sponsor. On Jan. 17, environmental protesters in Venice nearly sunk the gondola carrying the eternal flame. And last week, for the 33rd time since it began winding its way to Torino from Rome on Dec. 8, the torch was not just blocked, but actually stolen in the northern town of Trento. Italian track star Eleanora Berlanda, whose turn it was to carry the torch, tussled with brutish protesters until she finally had to give up the burning bastion of Olympic spirit. "I tried to hold on to the torch but they were pulling on it, twisting my wrists," cried Berlanda after the incident. "They were very passionate about their cause."
Too bad they're the only ones. Almost all the attention leading up to the Winter Games has focused not on fierce competitions between world-class athletes like hometown ski hero Giorgio Rocca and American outlaw Bode Miller (box), but on security concerns and the Italians' predictable rush to finish up the venues on schedule. What's noticeably missing from this normally passionate country is any semblance of Olympic spirit. Admittedly, that will be easier to muster once the Olympic cauldron is finally lit. But with virtually no publicity, very few showy stars and a notable lack of fresh scandals, Torino's 2006 Winter Olympics could truly be remembered as the Forgotten Games.
No one is more disheartened by the lack of enthusiasm than Italy's Olympic hopefuls. "It's a pity that we aren't talking enough about the Olympics in Italy," laments champion Rocca, who is favored to win the gold in the slalom. "The people aren't even going to know the names of those they should support." As Italy's best chance for Olympic fame, Rocca is also the country's best hope for whipping up enthusiasm--especially after recent wins against both Miller and Austrian powerhouse Hermann Maier. But so far, Rocca's promise has done little to boost interest.
It's not for lack of trying. He is a veritable star, and at the nearly ancient age of 30, says he has finally found what he calls "the key to skiing without mistakes." He won his fifth straight World Cup title on Jan. 15, elevating him to the status of his predecessor and Italy's favorite Olympic son, Alberto Tomba, who holds the record at seven straight wins. But in modern Olympics, being a good athlete is not enough, and though handsome, Rocca, a former carabiniere officer, is not much of a showman--especially when compared with "La Bomba," whose antics were as much fun to watch off the slopes as on. …