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Last Updated: Friday, 10 February 2006, 06:23 GMT
Turin set for 20th Winter Games
By Anna Thompson
BBC Sport at the Winter Olympics

The 20th Winter Olympics runs from 10- 26 February
The 20th Winter Olympics runs from 10-26 February
The Olympic flame will burn again when the 20th Winter Games begins in Turin, Italy, on Friday.

More than 2,500 athletes from 85 countries will compete for 84 gold medals in 15 disciplines.

The inclusion of tropical island republic Madagascar and Albania for the first time represents the ongoing and diverse appeal of the Winter Olympics.

Britain has a 40-strong team with the women's curling side competing as defending champions.

The opening ceremony in Turin's Olympic Stadium will begin at 1900 GMT and mark the start of 16 days of competition.

Team GB chef de mission Simon Clegg said he believed Britain would add to its medal tally of 20 medals in 19 Games, stating a medal of any colour would constitute success.

And he was given a boost even before the Games started when Britain's men's curling team from 1924 had their gold medals given official status.

At the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Clegg predicted Britain could have their best Games since the war.

He was proved right when a gold in the women's curling and a bronze in the women's bob skeleton was the best return since Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany in 1936.

Rhona Martin (centre) led the British curling team to gold in Salt Lake City
Rhona Martin (centre) will be back to defend her curling gold

Clegg said Britain had some good winter talent although many athletes had not performed consistently enough over the last couple of seasons to merit predicting numerous medal triumphs.

"I have a responsibility to be realistic and do not feel I am dampening down expectations," he said.

Snowboard cross, similar to a moto-cross event but on snow, makes its Winter Olympics debut and one of Britain's medal hopes, teenager Zoe Gillings, goes in the women's event on 17 February.

The 20th Winter Olympics are essentially split between the northern Italian city of the Turin and the Piedmonte mountain area which includes the ski resorts of Sestriere, Sauze d'Oulx and Bardonecchia.

Turin will stage the indoor events of ice hockey, short track and long track speed skating, figure skating and curling, while the mountain resorts will host alpine and freestyle skiing, snowboarding, bobsleigh, luge and skeleton and ski jumping.

A massive security operation, costing $100m (57m) is under way, with 15,000 police officers being deployed.

Momentum is gathering pace after a lacklustre build-up to the Games with the slogan "Passion Lives Here" in danger of being quelled even before the real action began.

News stories rather than sport stories have been dominating the headlines with protestors forcing the Olympic torch relay to be diverted from its original route.

There have also been transport problems, including Olympic car lanes still to be painted, while some athletes have complained about their accommodation facilities.

And just hours before the Games were due to begin, the International Ski Federation said eight Nordic skiers had been suspended for five days after tests showed they had an abnormally high red blood cell count.

Flags fly outside the Palavela skating venue
Flags fly outside the skating venue in Palavela

But many hitches seem to have been overcome, with almost all venues now finished with grandstands erected, and signs put in place.

Clegg said: "There has been a number of challenges and teething problems but that is the same of every Games. It can't be easy for any organising committee."

Ticket sales were reportedly also going slowly but in the last couple of days, they have picked up too.

And the local Torinese people seem to be embracing the Winter Olympics rather than seeing them as a huge inconvenience.

Roberto di Cattaneo, a carpenter who lives just outside Turin, told BBC Sport: "I'm not too excited by it at the moment but as soon as the Olympics start I and many other Italians will get into it.

"We are notorious like this. We've got some good medal chances and [slalom skier] Giorgio Rocca is one of my favourites."

In Turin, red Olympic flags line the official routes and advertising hoardings have a distinct winter sports theme but there is little else in the city to suggest the Games are being held here.

In the mountains there is more of a flavour of Olympic spirit with local residents hanging out banners welcoming the Games and the athletes.

The weather has been glorious so far but snow is forecast over the weekend and that will be a welcome relief for the organisers of the alpine sports.

The opening ceremony is on Friday and then on Saturday the Winter Olympics proper begin with the men's 20km biathlon.



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