An Olympic Experience: Torino 2006

As I am tuning in to Sochi and watching the Dutch women crush it in speed skating like they always do, I can’t help but remember when I was in the stands, watching this event live exactly 8 years ago. Have you ever wondered what it would be like for the Olympics to come to the place you live? To be honest, I hadn’t given it much thought before I moved to Turin, Italy in 2005. In fact, if my study abroad program had another option besides Turin, a city of a million people, I would have opted for a smaller location. However, that was not the case, so off to Turin (Torino) I went. The other thing that happened to be on its way to Torino that year was the Winter Olympic Games, which was an incredible bonus for all the students in my program. I never use this term because I like to think that if I enjoy something enough, I can always do it again, but I really feel like my time at the Olympics in Torino 2006 was a once in a lifetime experience, as a “local.” I dug out my old journal to bring you this story today, my Olympic experience from the Torino 2006 Winter Games.

A Trip Back in Time to Torino 2006

2006 Winter Olympics

I now understand why people travel the world to go to the different Olympic Games. What an experience of a lifetime this has been for me. I have only known the Olympics as a two-week competition until now, but it is so much more than that. My Olympics started when Team USA arrived in Torino. I was lucky enough to volunteer for the US Olympic Committee, in Team Processing. As the US athletes arrive to Torino, they literally came to see me and my crew before anything else. No kidding! In Team Processing, athletes get to do their free sponsor shopping. It’s where they pick up their berets, parade uniforms, award uniforms, village loungewear, etc. all while pushing their shopping carts around a middle school gym. That also means that I got to meet more than half of Team USA.

On my first of four days in Team Processing, The Today Show came to document the experience, and I happened to be at the beret station, which of course was their favorite. They hung out by my station all day with their cameras, and there’s proof! I appeared on the show a couple of times that day next to Shaun White, among others. He went on to win gold in  the halfpipe, NBD. The snowboarders were definitely the most fun group that came through, and we even went to lunch with them when our shift was over (to a food court in the nearby mall, in case you are wondering where Olympians eat). I also got to meet all the female figure skaters, including Michelle Kwan before she went home, ice dancers, x-country skiers, nordic combined, freestyle aerials, women’s alpine skiers, where I saw Julia Mancuso whom I actually grew up with in Tahoe City, that was crazy even though I knew she would be there (she went on to win gold in GS!). Team Processing was an incredible way to kick off the Olympics, and that was only the beginning!

I am currently working as a bartender at two different bars, one Irish pub (The Shamrock Inn) on a main street and one completely Italian bar. On the night of the Opening Ceremonies, I was scheduled to work at the Italian bar (which proudly sports a sign over its door that reads “Beer & Beer,” and so we lovingly call it). As I walked to the Beer & Beer, the streets were empty. This is a huge city, and the streets were empty. The only things moving besides me were the dozens of helicopters buzzing about in the sky. I could feel that something big was happening in my city at that very moment. What an eery, yet totally invigorating feeling. It was so strange to watch the Opening Ceremonies in a place where I was the only American, and Italian TV obviously focused on the Italians, so I hardly even got to see the team I just outfitted to march. The entire Olympics was like that, hardly any coverage of the Americans (and of course that makes sense) but at the same time it bummed me out. Here I am, literally at the Olympics, yet I feel so far from the action! I don’t have a TV, and I LOVE to watch the Olympics, so that drove me crazy! The only events I got to watch were the ones I attended or saw on TV at the bars.

This semester, I’m living with four other students from my program who stayed to work during the Olympics. None of us are enrolled at our school here anymore, although I’m still taking a full load of classes online. My roommate Katie, who got a gig working for Coca Cola, came with me to our first live event: Women’s Hockey, USA v. Germany. It was right next to the Olympic Stadium so we go to see the torch in person, so cool! We won that game 6-0.

The next day I went to The Today Show. The NBC studio was set up in a piazza about 10-15 minutes walk from my apartment, isn’t that crazy in itself? I thought so! I got right up on the fence even though I was a bit late (Italians don’t care too much about the Today Show). I appeared on TV a few times when they did some shots right in front of me, my mom even recorded it! (I had plenty of time to warn her before it aired on the Pacific Coast). I got to meet Al and got a picture with Katie Couric, what! Everything was so exciting! And that was only MONDAY!

That night I went out to the Bud Party. There was a huge “Bud House” (Budweiser-sponsored) built right next to the USA house (go figure) and its sole purpose was to host HUGE parties for the American athletes. The only problem was you have to have a hard-to-get-ticket to get in, but luckily I had a bunch of new friends in high places. I was able to use Elijah Teter’s pass (his sister Hannah won gold in the halfpipe that day, again, NBD). They were from South Lake so we exchanged numbers in hopes to maybe hang out. So I got to party with the snowboarders that I had met in Team Processing. After the Bud House, we went to Danny Kass’s private party (he won silver in the halfpipe that day). Much later that night I ran into Danny again at the train station looking very lost, so I called him a cab in Italian and snapped a photo of that funny moment in the process. 

I think I’m getting ahead of myself. My friends in high places didn’t just show up out of nowhere, actually I guess they did. You see, the Olympics provides so many jobs in so many different capacities, that the population of Torino nearly doubled for an entire month from everyone who came to work. My Irish pub on a main street became quite the North American bar (tips, woohoo!). For the entirety of that month, we had regulars from both the US and Canada with whom I made friends very quickly. I guess everyone wanted to know the American girl behind the Italian bar, and I wanted to know all of them, too! This is where I met most all of my friends in high places.

That Thursday my friend Ban and I accepted an invitation to visit the athlete’s village in Sestriere (the mountain resort where all the alpine skiing took place, about 45 minutes by train outside the city). The invitation was extended to me by Torin Koos, a US x-country skier whom I had met in Team Processing, so of course we went! Torin got us guest passes into the US Ski Team House up there where we hung out for a while (is this really happening?). We took a walk around the village and I almost literally ran into Bode Miller, we just barely missed each other, and then kicked myself when I realized who it was. I would rather have run into him face first, “oops!” 😉

winter olympics tickets

That weekend I got invited on an “Olympic date” by one of my new friends at NBC, so after dinner at my favorite restaurant, he treated me to the Women’s Speed Skating 1000m Long Track. The arena was full, FULL of orange… the Dutch fans were contageous with their enthusiasm, they even brought a band, and we had such a great time in the orange sea. Those Dutch fans were much more respectful than the Swiss ones my friends and I came across the next night at the Aerials competition. The US didn’t do so well in Aerials, but we did get to witness the only Argentinian skier complete a triple backflip in the air. TV does not do that sport justice. In person, it’s terrifying.

That concludes the three events that I got to attend. Then, I started to get sick, really sick. I wasn’t willing to give up the Olympics for my bed though, so I tried to power through. During that second week I couldn’t work some of my scheduled nights since I was sick, and on Wednesday I got sent home early from the bar… just in time to go with some of my new friends to the medals ceremony that night, with VIP TICKETS!! Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick had won medals in a speed skating event, but here is the kicker that most people don’t know about the Olympics: at every medals ceremony, there is a concert afterwards! So, I HAD VIP FRONT ROW TICKETS TO RICKY MARTIN!!!! Don’t laugh, I’ve been living in Italy for over 6 months and some Latin music and dance was just what the doctor ordered. Ricky Martin put on an incredible show, and you bet I was singing, although I was dying, too.

I spent the next four days in bed. It was worth it. I actually almost went to the hospital, but couldn’t get out of bed to take myself there. So I stayed in bed through almost the rest of the Olympics. I did make it out Saturday night to go to a party at the German House with my roommates, but it was high tea compared to the party I had been to at the Bud House, so we all went home before midnight. On Sunday we went back to the same piazza where the NBC studio had been  to watch the Closing Ceremonies on the biggest screen I’ve ever seen in person, with the most Italians that have ever been in that piazza at one time, I’m sure of it. If you saw the Closing Ceremonies, when the Italian won that gold medal and they did the medal ceremony right there, it was SO overwhelming. I’ve never been more proud to be Italian (at heart) than at that moment. The emotions of the crowd were engulfing and I was swept right up in it.

I’ve already got my sights set on Vancouver 2010 if it works out. It’s just such a fun experience, there is so much going on all the time. I didn’t even get to do half of it, and I did a lot for having 4 classes and 2 jobs. There are things I didn’t even mention, like the night that the entire Dutch men’s curling team came into the Shamrock. Okay curling certainly looks like a boring sport, but let me tell you, those curlers are anything but boring! Random things like that happened every day for two weeks straight, and I cried when all of my new friends finally left after being here for nearly a month. Torino feels so empty. And I’m still paying for my fun by being sick, but at least now I’ll have time to concentrate on school, and I’m going to Venice this weekend (I need a vacation). I have just two weeks left in Torino before I go traveling for a month, and then it’s back to the good old US of A…

So there you have it. Now, eight years later as I look back on that experience, I still consider it one of the most exciting months of my life. I never made it to Vancouver 2010, even though I was living close by in California at the time. It just wouldn’t be the same as a visitor. Now they’re talking about Bozeman bidding for 2026. Could it really happen? If it does, I know I will make a point to be here, no matter where my travels take me in the meantime.