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The 20th Winter Olympic Games - Turin 2006
On 10 February 2006 at the Comunale Area stadium in Turin the torch of the 20th Winter Olympic Games will be lit and the Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi will announce: “I declare the Games of the twentieth Winter Olympics in Turin open."
The next day competitors start their Olympic rivalry. The winter sports athletes will compete for medals in biathlon, bobsleigh, Nordic combined, curling, free-style skiing, ice hockey, figure skating, speed skating, ski jumping, alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, short-track, luge and skeleton, as well as snowboarding.
The Olympic Games will be held in seven locations: Turin, Bardonechcia, Cesana, Pinerolo, Pragelato, Sauze d'Oulx and Sestriere.
For the first time in the history of the Winter Olympics the athletes will be living in three Olympic villages - in Turin, Bardonechcia and Sestriere. Eighty four medal sets will be awarded and 2,500 winter athletes from around 90 countries will participate in the competition. The organisers have anticipated the arrival of 2,500 coaches and officials, 650 arbiters and 10,000 representatives of the media. The Games will be watched by 1.5 m. spectators on the sport arenas, while the number of telespectators is expected to reach 4 bn all over the world.
How did the Olympic rivalry begin?
On 25 January 1924, in a French village called Chamonix, situated at the foot of Mont Blanc, the International Winter Sports Week began. The competition was organized by the French Alpine Club under the patronage of the French Olympic Committee. A year later, at its 8th Congress in Prague, the International Olympic Committee acknowledged officially the event as the 1st Winter Olympic Games. The delay in the recognition of the Winter Sports Week as the 1“ Winter Olympic Games was due i.a. to the protest of baron Pierre de Coubertin, the creator of the modern era Olympic Games, a visionary and romantic fascinated by Ancient Greece.
However, even such an authority on the Olympic movement was not able to fight back the increasing pressure of winter sports. The figure skaters were first who competed for Olympic medals. This sport discipline appeared in the programme of the summer Olympic Games held in London in 1908. Another winter sport to gain recognition, namely ice hockey, made its debut also at the summer Olympics in Antwerp in 1920. In Chamonix 258 winter athletes (including 13 women) from 16 countries competed in five sports (bobsleigh, figure skating, speed skating, ice hockey, cross-country skiing). In the medal count the Norwegians outclassed the rest of the world winning 4 gold, 7 silver and 4 bronze medals. The Polish team comprised seven athletes. A skater, Leon Jucewicz, took the 8th place, the best result of the Polish team. Figure skating saw the appearance of a young, 12-year-old Norwegian girl Sonja Henie. She finished the eighth in a field of eight but already then it was seen as a beginning of a stunning career to come. It came true -she won three Olympic gold medals in St. Moritz (1928), Lake Placid (1932) and Garmisch-Partenkirchen (1936).
The Winter Olympic Games will be held in Italy for the second time. For the first time they were held in Cortina d'Ampezzo in 1956. A phenomenal Austrian Toni Sailer, who won all three alpine events, was the star of those Games. Cortina saw the debut of the Soviet Union national team, who straight away took the first place in the medal count, winning 7 gold, 3 silver and 6 bronze medals. Those Games were also memorable for us, as Franciszek Gęsienica-Groń won the first medal of the Winter Olympic Games for Poland, coming third in the Nordic combined after the Norwegian Sverre Stenersen and the Swede Bengt Eriksson.
In their nineteen appearances in the Winter Olympic Games, the Polish winter athletes have won six medals: one gold - Wojciech Fortuna (Sapporo 1972), two silver - Elwira Seroczyńska (Squaw Valley 1960) and Adam Małysz (Salt Lake City 2002) and three bronze - the above-mentioned Franciszek Gęsienica-Groń and Helena Pilejczyk (Squaw Valley 1960), as well as Adam Małysz (Salt Lake City 2002).
The medal won by Wojciech Fortuna was a complete surprise as he became a member of the Olympic team owing to the pressure by the media. He had his Olympic outfit made at the last moment. He did not fail, though. On 11 February 1972, on the Okurayama large jumping hill, he beat the Swiss Walter Steiner just by one tenth of a point, leaving also the hosts' favourite Yukio Kasaya behind. In his first jump the Pole reached the 111 m spot. The record score awarded by the arbiters (130.4 pts), however, was due not just to the distance, but also beautiful style.
Elwira Seroczyńska competed in Squaw Valley at distances ranging from 500 to 3000 metres. She had an enormous chance to win the gold medal at 1000 m, unfortunately she fell down 100 m before the finishing line, forfeiting her medal chance. She won a silver medal at 1500 m, being defeated only by the phenomenal Soviet skater Lidia Skoblikowa. A second Polish winter athlete, Helena Pilejczyk, came third at this distance. It is, however, the only case, until now, when two Polish winter athletes stood on the same podium. What is interesting, they almost failed to participate in the Olympics as they had not been part of the team, similarly to Franciszek Gęsienica-Groń four years earlier. It was the successful competition in Kazakhstan that made the coaches take the risk on them.
Adam Małysz was our favourite for gold in Salt Lake City. He was in his top form then. He won a bronze at a K-90 jumping hill and silver at K-120. The two gold medals fell to a 20-year-old Swiss, Simon Ammann.
On 19 June 1999, at the 109th IOC Session in Seul, the members of the International Olympic Committee chose Turin as the organizer of the 20th Winter Olympic Games. Six cities competed for this honour: Turin, Helsinki (Finland), Klagenfurt (Austria), Poprad (Slovakia, Tatra), Sion (Switzerland) and also (for the first time in history) Polish Zakopane. It was Turin that came victorious.
The Olympic flame, which will light the Olympic torch, was ignited on 27 November 2005 in the Greek Olympia and taken to Italy. The very modernistic shape of the torch was designed by a renowned motor-car body designer, Andrea Pininfarino.
The Olympic flame was blessed by the pope Benedict XVI at his meeting with the faithful in Vatican.The Pope said i.a.: “It gladdens my heart to bless the Olympic torch, which begins its travel from Rome to Turin. May this flame remind everybody of the values of peace and brotherhood that are at the basis of the Olympics".
The medals' design is very modest (they are round with a hole cut out in the middle) - on one side there is the logo of the Games, on the reverse there are symbols of various sports. “Round like Olympic circles, they also symbolize the circle of victory. When the medal hangs on the athlete's chest, the empty space will point at his heart." - with these words the medal is described by the organizers of the Olympic Games. They prepared 1,026 medals for the Olympics.Additional 648 rings have been reserved for the Paralympic Games. Also 35 thousand souvenir medals will be minted.
Neve and Gliz, a snowball and a little ice cube, are the mascots of the Games in Turin. They are meant to symbolize passion, enthusiasm, elegance, culture, love of sport and natural environment. They have been designed by a Portuguese, Pedro Albuquerque.
Following the example of Ancient Greece, where for the duration of the Olympic Games all belligerents agreed to suspend the hostilities, the trade unions of Turin signed the “act on the “Olympic peace" and thus committed themselves to refrain from strikes during the Olympics.
The Polish team will be composed of 40-50 winter athletes. The Polish Olympic mission will be headed by Zbigniew Pacelt, the former vice president of the Polish Sports Confederation.
Adam Małysz, who claims he will be fighting for medals; Justyna Kowalczyk, who returned to the cross-country skiing tracks after disqualification and has had excellent results recently; and Tomasz Sikora, the most titled Polish biathlonist, world champion and vice-champion, who many times stood on the World Cup podium, are the leaders of our team. The Winter Olympics in Turin will be Sikora's fourth Olympic appearance, similarly to Paweł Zygmunt's, our best speed skater, who said: “I would like to conclude this chapter with a medali".
We also count on good performance by our women biathlonists Magdalena Gwizdoń and Magdalena Grzywa, a figure skating couple Dorota Zagórska and Mariusz Siudek, the ski runner Janusz Krężelok, a snowboarder Jagna Kolasińska-Marczułajtis and her team-mate Mateusz Ligocki. We are also expecting nice surprises from other Polish athletes.
It is difficult to imagine the Olympic competition without television. Mainly because of television requirements, the IOC decided to hold the summer and Winter Olympics from the 1990s on alternatively every two years, instead of having them in the same year.
What will the 20th Winter Olympic Games in Turin be like? The president of the Italian Olympic Committee, Gianni Petrucci, claims to already know the answer and he states boldly: "We will show to the world the most beautiful Winter Games ever seen. There have never been the Olympics such as these before. Turin made every possible effort to make it so." We believe that it will come true!