February 13, 2006

Security keeps fans away from Turin Games

By Rachel Sanderson

TURIN (Reuters) - One of the places to be at these Olympics
is outside a luxury goods store in downtown Turin.

Finding tickets too pricey and security too tight to get
close to official venues, some locals crowd around two plasma
screens in the shop's window broadcasting the 20th Winter

Elisabetta Rinaldi, an Italian flag painted on her cheek,
was among dozens on Sunday evening standing outside the store,
cheering for Canadian men's luge champion Jeff Christie.

"Turin's come alive and it's wonderful. The one difficulty
is it's hard to move around. We wanted to get to the medals
plaza but it's closed off so we're having an ice cream instead
to celebrate," she smiled, clutching a cone between her

Turin organizers say they hit their ticket sales targets on
Saturday, two days after the Games opened.

But Italy's massive security shutdown for the Olympics
appears to have made attendance uneven with many would-be fans
avoiding the long security queues in freezing temperatures and
soaking up the atmosphere in their own way.

Reuters correspondents said turnout was spotty on the first
weekend even though the medals haul was at its greatest.

At the men's downhill, arguably the Games' most exciting
event and with up to two hour security queues, racing veterans
said they had never seen such a poor turnout.

The luge stands were also half-full even with Armin
Zoeggeler about to hand Italy their first gold of this

Instead, families crowded into the lower-key figure skating
practices in central Turin, cheering and clapping every move,
and the lower-profile snowboarding halfpipe.


It was the same story at Turin's medal plaza, the center of
the city's celebrations -- and the focus of the 15,000 armed
police deployed for the Games.

Olympic flags fluttered, giant plasma screens streamed
event coverage, fireworks scattered across the night sky and
attendants handed out free drinks and food.

But with three security walls enclosing the plaza and
visitors needing to sign-up beforehand to get in, the medals
ceremony for Italy's speedskating bronze medallist Enrico
Fabris was two-thirds full, while crowds of people, held back
by police, craned to get a glimpse from outside.

But for many that was enough.

"It just gets better every night," said resident Rosa
Scorzoglio, 65, who, with her daughter and son, was sandwiched
between two pillars with a clear though distant view.

"We plan to come every night until the end of the Games ...
We're happy just to be soaking up the atmosphere."

(Additional reporting by Gideon Long, Jane Barrett, Mark
Meadows, Karolos Grohmann)