Sport on TV: After the luge it's all downhill for architects of the Games

Human remains are found, possibly Roman, and Vittorio goes bonkers
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The Independent Online

We think Wembley's got problems, with warring administrators, builders on drugs and incompetent Aussie contractors. We should be so lucky. At least we've not had Roman bones, on-site carcinogens and a bomb 50 miles long holding work up.

This afternoon, when the men's luge opens proceedings on the Olympic bobsleigh track at Cesana Pariol, a relieved trio will be looking on. They began construction a couple of years ago, but as Building the Winter Games (Discovery Channel, Wednesday) detailed, the project became a nightmare on ice.

There's a great cast: the sports manager, Ivo Ferriani, a former Olympic champion with Robert Mitchum eyes, striding round in his bush hat; the chief engineer, Vittorio Salusso, another looker, with designer stubble and a sour wit; and Udo Gurgel, the doyen of track designers, who looks like a grand conductor.

They kick off with a massive problem: a survey has found naturally occurring asbestos. Digging would expose all the fibres. They need a new track, preferably non-toxic. Work stops.

Vittorio has another area in mind, but it's exposed to the sun. They need a constant temperature, otherwise the venue will only be fit to host kayaking (deluge rather than luge, you might say). The track is a concrete shell over a mile long, and to keep it frozen, ammonia is pumped through 52 miles of pipes. The sun means they must use twice as much ammonia: it's effectively a very, very long bomb.

Enter the toxic gas commission. Work stops. Ivo is told to halve the amount of ammonia. That means shortening the track or reducing the refrigeration. He's incensed. "Am I still needed here?' he asks at a crisis meeting. "Just let me know if there's anything left to discuss." He stands up, puts on his bush hat with a flourish and strides out.

They come up with a solution: use two tanks - so only one, they hope, might leak and explode. Work begins again. And then stops again. Human remains are found, possibly Roman. The Cultural Heritage Ministry steps in and Vittorio goes bonkers.

"I don't give a damn about the archaeologist!" he shouts. "He can't stop anything! It's just four poor fighters who died in the war. And we want to treat them like Roman relics." He has a solution, though: ignore the archaeologist, carry on building.

But winter comes. "What a mess," Vittorio tells a colleague on his mobile from his mudbound SUV. "I had to calm down the national teams. And Ivo. We risk him collapsing like in a reality TV show. I said I'd give him a heart massage. But no mouth-to-mouth." After a litany of setbacks it would require several more columns to do justice to, they get it built. But then it has to be inspected. Ivo is concerned about Curve 18, and on the fourth test run a rider breaks his arm and shoulder there.

"This is not a problem for experienced athletes," Ivo tells the press. "Every track in the world has its secrets." But to an aghast Udo, he says: "At the moment they're just going to fly off. One gust of wind and they're away."

The approvals committee fails the track. The team rebuild, but fall out. Ivo wants the concrete white, for better visibility. Vittorio thinks it's a waste. "If I ask for white it's because I need it," Ivo says. "It's bullshit," Vittorio snaps. "It's functional," Ivo reiterates. "It's bullshit," Vittorio spits, and storms out.

As final inspection looms, the workers say the ammonia is dangerous, stop work and lock Ivo out. Vittorio threatens to resign if they're not building again in two hours. They're ready minutes before the final inspection, and Kristan Bromley is one of the first down. "Whoah!" is his breathless verdict. "It's fast. Curve 18 is real high pressure."

Still, he's happy. And with the track passed, Vittorio and Ivo are friends again. But watch out for Curve 18.