BEIJING (AP) — From the cosmopolitan fashion of Milan to the alpine chic of Cortina d’Ampezzo, the upcoming Winter Olympics are being promoted as a celebration of culture, cuisine and, of course, sport.
After three consecutive Winter Games on new tracks in Sochi and Asia, plus the 2010 edition in Vancouver, the 2026 Olympics will return to the Alps.
For the International Olympic Committee, returning to Europe’s most famous mountain range – where the Winter Games made their debut in 1924 in the French resort of Chamonix – will mark a return to more familiar ground after bringing the Games to new audiences in Sochi, Pyeongchang and Beijing.
However, several European skiers – including two leading Italians – have reservations about the organization of the Milan-Cortina Games.
The 2026 Games will be the most widespread Olympic Games of all time, with venues spread over 22,000 square kilometers (nearly 10,000 square miles) across a vast swath of northern Italy – regions of Lombardy and Veneto to the provinces of Trento and Bolzano.
“There will be no Olympic spirit,” said three-time Olympic medalist Federica Brignone this week after her bronze in the giant slalom, before winning another bronze in the alpine combined.
“Everyone will be in their own corner. It’s good to take advantage of existing structures and not consume and build new rooms; from an ecological point of view it will be much better,” added Brignone. “But in terms of the Olympic atmosphere, I don’t know how it will be but I don’t think it will be very pleasant.”
The 2026 organizers have taken heed of IOC President Thomas Bach’s reform plan, Agenda 2020, which allows for more flexible offers that take advantage of existing infrastructure, even if this means using venues away from the main city of Games.
Hockey, figure skating and short track speed skating will take place in Milan in 2026; cross-country skiing, ski jumping and Nordic combined in Val di Fiemme; long track speed skating at Baselga di Pine; snowboarding and freestyle in Livigno; biathlon in Anterselva; men’s skiing in Bormio; and women’s skiing, sliding and curling in Cortina d’Ampezzo.
The alpine skiing split between Bormio and Cortina will keep the men and women, respectively, divided by a five-hour drive that includes a detour into Switzerland as the most direct route is over closed mountain passes in winter.
“I don’t like it,” Norwegian skier Lucas Braathen said. “It’s so cool to have everyone in one place. I’m here to make new foreign friends and to see all types of culture, and then they divide us.
Defending giant slalom World Cup champion Marta Bassino cited organizational problems at her home world championships in Cortina last year – which were held without spectators due to the pandemic.
“Even without fans it was difficult and boring. Parking was a problem,” Bassino said. “It’s the little things that make the difference.”
Construction delays are also an issue with the official handover to Milan-Cortina at Sunday’s closing ceremony in Beijing.
A century-old sliding track in Cortina must be completely rebuilt at a cost of almost 60 million dollars. Work has not yet started, although the Veneto region presented a plan for the reconstruction of the track in December.
At Baselga, the renovation work on the outdoor speed skating track, again, has not started.
Likewise, the more than $1 billion earmarked for improving roads and railways, as well as other infrastructure, has mostly gone unused.
“We are far behind,” organizing committee president Giovanni Malago, who is also president of the Italian Olympic Committee, said in November.
A new mayor of Turin has shown interest in hosting speed skating on the existing inner ring built for the 2006 Games – if Baselga doesn’t work.
There are still four years left.
“We’re going to put on a great show,” said Giuliano Razzoli, the 2010 Olympic slalom champion who likely competed in his final Olympics in Beijing. “And the whole world will want to come to Italy.”
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Andrew Dampf is at https://twitter.com/AndrewDampf