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4 years later, Turin basks in its Olympic legacy

4 years later, Turin basks in its Olympic legacy

City fathers knew what outsiders thought about Turin _ if they thought about it at all: Gray, industrial, anonymous.
This was a city of workers _ and not very satisfied ones at that, judging by the sorry state of Turin's primary employer, the Fiat car company.
The glory days were a distant memory for the once grand city, the former seat of the royal Savoy dynasty and the first capital of a united Italy.
In 2000, as Turin prepared for the 2006 Winter Olympics, officials commissioned a worldwide survey to determine what people knew about the city.
"Five percent of the people in the world knew of Turin," city manager Cesare Vaciago said in a recent interview.
The Olympics, he said, changed all that. For 17 days, Turin was the center of the sports universe.
"The Olympics give you the maximum international visibility that you can get," said Vaciago, who was also chief executive of Turin's Olympic organizing committee. "Not all Olympics change history, but some change the history of a country and others of a city."
As the Olympic torch approaches Vancouver for February's Winter Games, Turin is mindful of its own Olympic legacy.
Besides the new sports venues and increase in tourism and recognition, the Olympics brought something more profound: The games helped boost Turin's self-image.
"The Turin Olympics of 2006 changed the history of the city," Vaciago said. "It was a forgotten city, out of sight, that was losing trust in its capacity and professionalism. Now Turin has recovered trust in itself."
Here is the quantifiable legacy: Turin leapt to the fourth-most visited Italian city, after Rome, Florence and Venice, according to Vaciago and Turin tourism officials.
Before the Olympics, the Michelin Guide rated Turin worth the detour. Now, it is rated worth a trip on its own. Before the games, the Lonely Planet guidebook described Turin as an industrial city near Milan. Now, Milan is described as a commercial center near Turin, Vaciago notes with no small amount of pride.
No one claims the Olympics cast a magic spell on the city. The city's transformation began before the games. Indeed, the city's very bid was a sign of its desire to reinvent itself. The turnaround of Fiat also has boosted the city's morale, something that had nothing to do with the Olympics and everything to do with the arrival in 2004 of the Italian-Canadian CEO Sergio Marchionne.
On a practical level, the Olympics, and the onslaught of fans during the games, gave Turin invaluable know-how in hosting visitors. And it gave Turin a very important physical legacy: The Olympic venues.
Turin is now preparing for major celebrations in 2010 when the Turin Archdiocese displays the Holy Shroud of Turin, revered by many Christians as Jesus Christ's burial cloth, and expected to attract 1.5 million religious pilgrims. And Turin is leading national celebrations marking Italy's 150th anniversary of unification in 2011.
Located 30 miles (50 kilometers) from the French border, Turin is more French than Italian in its feel and architecture. Turinese say they are more understated than their Italian compatriots: Rather than invoke the superlative "bellissimo," things are simply "bello." Many of the cities lesser-known attractions, such as jazz clubs and even grand old cafes, are hidden unheralded in interior courtyards.
But the city is heavily promoting the attractions it has. The world-renown Egyptian Museum is getting a facelift. The subway, built for the Olympics, will be extended to Lingotto _ near an old Fiat factory refurbished as a mall, and the former Olympic village _ in time for the 150th anniversary celebrations, which will bring another round of renovation to city sites.
"Torinese have become aware that their city is interesting to tourists, and they have become more obliging of them," said Livio Besso Cordero, president of the office promoting tourism in Turin and the surrounding area.
Twelve Olympic sites _ including the ice hockey, ski jumping and bobsled venues _ are managed by Torino Olympic Park. The private company recently reached a deal with the Los Angeles-based live concert promoters Live Nation to take a 70 percent share in the facilities.
It is the first time that so many former Olympic sites have been grouped under one company with the goal of turning a profit, general director Paolo Bellino said. The model has been studied by Vancouver and others, he said.
Torino Olympic Park is already bringing in major sports events. Figure skating's world championships in 2010 will be held in the Palavela, where Russia's Yevgeny Plushenko won the Olympic gold medal. The luge World Cup will be held in January.
But profitable sites share a balance sheet with less profitable, high-maintenance sites like the bobsled run.
The Olympic Park's goal is to break even by 2011 _ something that may be more easily achieved through the deal with Live Nation, which brings an expertise in promoting live entertainment and has such stars as Madonna and U2 in its portfolio.
The life span of the deal with Live Nation is equal to the expected life span of the former Olympic venues themselves _ 30 years. That means Turin will have to keep working on the art of reinvention.
Even if the Olympic frenzy couldn't last, ordinary citizens have sensed a change. In Piazza San Carlo, home to several of Turin's grand old cafes, guitarists gather each evening _ even cold, December ones _ and attract passers-by.
"This joy has always been here, even before the Olympics," guitarist and composer Pino Rosso said. But the Olympics, he added, "brought a sense of well-being, as well as more movement."


Updated : 2021-05-16 12:06 GMT+08:00