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Cortina craves bobsled revival with 2026 Olympics

CORTINA D’AMPEZZO, Italy — When Cortina’s century-old bobsled track closed for financial reasons 13 years ago, the adjacent coffee bar kept on serving espressos.

Still, bar owner Renzo Costantini pines for the good old days when drivers and brakemen would come whizzing down the track on one side of the café and then hop off their sleds on the other side and come in for a shot of espresso, a vin brulé or perhaps even a taste of the local grappa.

Or the days when his brother would drive him down the twisty track in a two-man bobsled.

“It was one of the most beautiful tracks in the world — one of the most technical tracks, like St. Moritz,” the 62-year-old Costantini said inside his café, aptly named the Bob Bar — where old photos lining the walls constitute an informal track museum. “We provided a basic service for anyone that came.”

While locals still come to the Bob Bar, hardly anyone comes these days for the track, which was used for the 1956 Olympics and hosted nine world championships — the last in 1999. It was closed in 2008 because of rising maintenance costs.

During a recent walk down the track, which was submerged by waste-deep snow, the only bobsleds visible were collecting dust in a storage area under the start.

While the track was falling apart, sharply banked curves rising out of the snow with a backdrop of jagged mountain peaks still made for a majestic spectacle.

A spectacle that locals hope can be rekindled for the 2026 Milan-Cortina Olympics.

However, the location of the sliding venue for 2026 remains a source of debate because of concern from the International Olympic Committee about runaway spending and white elephant venues.

The IOC has suggested that instead of spending the 50 million euros ($60 million) required to rebuild the Cortina track, that bobsledding, luge and skeleton could be contested at a venue in neighboring Switzerland (St. Moritz) or Austria (Igls) instead.

Ever since Russia’s overall spending linked to the 2014 Sochi Olympics topped $50 billion, the IOC has been anxious to curb all infrastructure spending by local organizers. That policy allows for taking events to another country to cut costs.

“We continue to discuss with all partners as per the decision of the IOC Executive Board to create a working group that is looking into this matter,” the IOC said in a statement to The Associated Press.

As far as the Italian Olympic Committee and the Italian Winter Sports Federation (FISI) are concerned, there’s nothing left to discuss. Same for the Veneto region that includes Cortina, which last week approved funding to rebuild the Eugenio Monti track.

“If we’re going to host the Olympics, we’re hosting them in Italy,” FISI president Flavio Roda told the AP. “The bobsled track is one of the few legacies that we can leave behind.”

There were also legacy promises when Italy last hosted the Olympics in 2006 in Turin. But the sliding venue built for about $100 million in Cesana Pariol for those games was dismantled in 2012.

“You’ve got to build tracks where there’s some sort of tradition,” said Gianfranco Rezzadore, the president of the Bob Club Cortina. “And that’s what Cortina has. The Bob Club Cortina has been around since 1948.”

The Cortina track was built in 1923 and the resort known as the “Queen” of the Italian Dolomites was home to bobsledding great Eugenio Monti, who won six Olympic medals between 1956 and 1968.

Like skiing, bobsledding is a skill passed down from generation to generation in Cortina. At least it used to be.

“I grew up in the same building as Rinaldo Ruatti,” Rezzadore said, referring to the former world champion. “His son and I used to play around with his bobsleds. That’s how I got hooked.”

Rezzadore, who became an Italian champion himself in four-man bob, mentored local skeleton athlete Mattia Gaspari, who won the bronze medal at last year’s world championships in the mixed team competition with Valentina Margaglio.

“When I was a kid, once they turned the lights off after each evening’s activities, my friends and I would go down the track on a regular wooden snow sled by moonlight until someone found us and told us to go away,” Rezzadore said.

Retired downhill skier Kristian Ghedina, who grew up next to the venue, fed his love for speed by racing a Vespa down the bobsled track after hours when he was a child.

“Whoever went higher in the parabolic curves won,” Ghedina said. “We would draw orange lines on the track to see who got the highest.”

Ghedina was inspired by the James Bond film “For Your Eyes Only,” which included a scene in which Bond, played by Roger Moore, raced down the Cortina track on skis while being chased by an armed motorcyclist.

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