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Milan-Cortina Olympics organizers confident they can build bobsled track amid standoff with IOC

The Associated Press
Milan-Cortina Olympics organizers confident they can build bobsled track amid standoff with IOC

CORTINA D’AMPEZZO, Italy – Organizers for the 2026 Milan-Cortina Olympics are convinced that they can build a bobsled track in record time amid a standoff with the IOC, which wants an existing foreign venue used instead to cut costs.

Italian luger Armin Zöggeler, who won medals at a record six consecutive Winter Games, said the International Olympic Committee’s suggestion of using tracks in nearby Austria or Switzerland doesn’t make sense because neither facility is ready for a modern Olympics.

The contentious issue is due to be resolved following a board meeting of the local organizing committee on Tuesday and Milan-Cortina chief executive Andrea Varnier addressed the situation over the weekend.

“We knew from the beginning what the idea of the IOC was,” Varnier said in Cortina. “They never thought that we should build a new sliding center. That’s very clear.

“Nevertheless, because of the tradition of Cortina, we always planned to have a sliding center in Cortina. So that was part of the conversation,” Varnier added. “And now of course they are very worried about the timeframe and this is a huge concern. But it’s not a surprise to them. We talk every day.”

Parma-based construction company Impresa Pizzarotti & C. has offered to rebuild the century-old track in Cortina for 81.6 million euros ($89 million).

Zöggeler, who is now the head coach of Italy’s luge team, said that by creating a national sliding center in Cortina, the country’s bobsled, luge and skeleton teams would save millions by not having to constantly travel abroad for training.

“It takes a big effort to constantly travel and stay in hotels for training, testing and races,” said Zöggeler, whose daughter Nina is on the national team. “It would make things a lot easier if we had a track in Cortina.”

Zöggeler, who won a medal at every Olympics from 1994 to 2014, also said that the finish area of the track near Innsbruck is too short and needs an expensive renovation, and that the naturally refrigerated track in St. Moritz is too risky to use.

Also, the Italian government does not want to fund the restoration of a foreign venue.

“The St. Moritz track is beautiful and gets rebuilt every year and the artisans there do an amazing job but if there’s a warm spell there’s a risk that you can’t race,” Zöggeler told The Associated Press from the luge world championships in Altenberg, Germany.

“It’s one thing to hold a World Cup event and another to host an Olympics with three sports at once,” Zöggeler added. “Add in training sessions for all three and I’m not sure they could handle all that if it gets too warm.”

But the IOC is sensitive about spiraling costs and potential white elephant projects, so is encouraging local organizers to use venues in other countries.

There were also legacy promises when Italy last hosted the Olympics in 2006 in Turin. But the sliding venue built for about $100 million in Cesana Pariol for those games was dismantled in 2012.

The Cortina track, which was used for the 1956 Olympics, was closed in 2008 because of rising maintenance costs and then dismantled last summer to make way for a new facility.

“We are working on a legacy project and the town will do its part along with FISI (the Italian Winter Sports Federation) and the region,” Cortina Mayor Gianluca Lorenzi said. “We will find a solution.”

Italy has a strong history in bobsled characterized by Eugenio Monti, a Cortina resident who won six Olympic medals between 1956 and 1968, and the country has also excelled at luge and skeleton recently.

Dominik Fischnaller won a bronze medal in luge at the 2022 Beijing Olympics and the season-long World Cup title last season and Amedeo Bagnis this month became the first Italian man to win a World Cup skeleton race after taking silver at last season’s world championships.

If the Cortina track project is approved, construction would start with less than two years to go before the Milan-Cortina Games — and less than a year before IOC-mandated test events. No sliding track has been built recently in such a short timeframe and test events have taken on even greater importance following the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili in a training crash hours before the start of the opening ceremony for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

It’s also notable that Cortina organized a bobsled world championships in 1960 when the local organizing committee for the Squaw Valley Olympics decided not to build a track because only nine nations were going to compete. It remains the only games where bobsled was not on the Olympic program.

“As far as we’re concerned, the decision has been made,” Lorenzi said. “Cortina will host sliding in 2026.”

©2024 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

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