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Road to Torino: Women's downhill, tickets, concerts, trains

Road to Torino: Women’s downhill, tickets, concerts, trains{mosimage}The remodeled women’s Olympic course that alpine skiers complained was too easy last season reopens this weekend.

Recreational skiers will test the extended jumps and new bumps in San Sicario beginning Saturday.

”We worked quite a lot on increasing the profile of the jumps throughout the course,” said Gianni Poncet, alpine skiing manager for organizing committee TOROC. ”We also added some undulations in the course’s midsection.”

Skiers who competed in a World Cup super G on the San Sicario course last winter declared the layout too flat and simple.

German skier Hilde Gerg led a petition to move the race to nearby Sestriere, where men’s races will be held. But organizers decided that no move was needed, and concentrated instead on making the course more challenging with summer landscape changes.

Poncet pointed out that, at 1.9 miles (3 kms) for the downhill, the length of the longest course in women’s skiing remained unchanged.

Sweden’s Anja Paerson won the downhill last season in 1 minute, 52.86 seconds.

”After 1 minute, 20 seconds it becomes very difficult for women,” Poncet said in a phone interview.

No racers yet have tried the remodeled course.

”We will see if we can arrange something with some athletes in between the World Cup schedule,” Poncet said.

Workers began producing artificial snow for the ski courses in both San Sicario and Sestriere at the end of November. About 20 inches (50 cms) of natural snow had fallen as of Wednesday.

The courses in Sestriere will be ready by Christmas, Poncet said, adding that a new lighting system had been installed on the slalom course offering double the amount of light.

A new chairlift connecting the Olympic village in Sestriere to the start of the San Sicario course means that, for the first time, Olympic athletes and coaches will be able to access all race and training areas without having to drive.

Sestriere and San Sicario will be closed to recreational skiers and fans wishing to ski during the Games, but runs in nearby Sauze D’Oulx, Claviere and Bardonecchia will be open.

MEDAL CONCERTS: Andrea Bocelli, Lou Reed, Ricky Martin, Avril Lavigne and other musical stars will perform in the downtown medal plaza during the Torino Games.

Opera singer Bocelli will open the festivities in Piazza Castello on Feb. 11 after the first day of competition. Organizers expect 8,500 spectators each night.

Fifty-five of the 84 medal ceremonies will be held in the plaza, with alpine ceremonies held at competition venues.

There also will be a full array of offerings around town in a cultural Olympiad, including Puccini operas, theater and a film series.

TRAIN TROUBLE: Protests against a high-speed rail link to France are turning into a major worry for the Torino Games.

Hundreds of protesters blocked the main highway leading from Torino to the Olympic mountain venues on Tuesday and Wednesday, engulfing the road in flames. Railways also were blocked.

Environmentalists and residents have been protesting for weeks against drilling a tunnel in the Susa Valley for the rail line.

Olympics organizing committee chief Valentino Castellani called the protests a ”very serious problem” but maintained that ”the people of the Susa Valley are for the Games.”

”We have prepared these Games together,” Castellani said.

Mario Pescante, the government’s chief organizer for the Torino Games, said the protests remind him of a TV operators strike at last season’s alpine World Championships in Bormio, causing the postponement of the men’s giant slalom by a day.

”Sixteen workers walked out because their jackets were not warm enough — and that’s not a joke,” Pescante said. ”This is a problem, although we remain optimistic.”

The Italian government has pledged to push ahead with the rail link, calling for more talks with local authorities.

STYLISH TICKETS: Tickets in Torino will feature specific graphics for each sport, an Olympic first.

In addition to numerical data, the tickets include different pictograms for each sport. The tickets also feature 14 anti-falsification elements, such as holograms, safety paper and special inks.

Tickets are still available for every sport.

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