Cortina Bobsleigh Project on Track Amid Twists and Turns

(ATR) Rebuilding the historic venue to honor Italian Olympic legend Eugenio Monti has its critics.

(ATR) Eugenio Monti is widely considered the greatest bobsleigh pilot ever and a sportsman who epitomized the Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect.

The Italian won six Olympic medals between 1956 and 1968, but is perhaps equally remembered for his magnanimous gestures at the 1964 Innsbruck Games.

Among the favorites in two events, Monti lent the British duo of Anthony Nash and Robin Dixon a bolt off his own sled prior to the final run of the two-man competition. He then assisted Canada by offering his mechanic to make a critical sled repair during the four-man event. Monti’s competitors proceeded to race to gold medals as he and his teammates settled for a pair of bronze medals.

Monti was honored and awarded the Pierre de Coubertin medal for his sportsmanship.

Nearly six decades after his unforgettable acts and with preparations for Milano-Cortina 2026 ramping up, Italian sport leaders and politicians intend to honor Monti by having the fabled Cortina d’Ampezzo bobsleigh track rebuilt. The 1956 Olympic venue was renamed after the Italian legend following his death in 2003, but closed in 2008 due to rising maintenance costs.

It remains a controversial project, initially shunned by the IOC, which Cortina mayor Gianpietro Ghedina says will cost in the vicinity of 50-60 million Euros. Veneto president Luca Zaia promises that the regional government will step up to cover all costs.

"We have always believed that it is part of our history, part of our culture and we have planned activities for its sustainability for the years following the Olympic events," Ghedina tells Around the Ringsduring an interview at the old bobsleigh track.

"We have always moved forward in the awareness that the infrastructure would not be paid for by the public, but as an investment from the territories," he said. "So certainly it is important that it is paid by Veneto and therefore I must say that it is not a problem as far as finances are concerned."

The International Olympic Committee, which initially suggested that bobsleigh, skeleton and luge be moved to an existing track in St. Moritz or Innsbruck to reduce costs, finally gave approval following the financial agreement reached between Veneto and Cortina this past winter.

The IOC’s Milano-Cortina Coordination Commission was swayed as plans for the venue are stated to be an investment not solely as a sliding track for the 2026 Olympics, but for a wider entertainment park project unrelated to the Games.

"There were concerns for the purely sporting legacy of this installation, but it was made very clear that this is not an Olympic project, not a project for the Games, but the organizing committee will benefit from this overall investment," IOC president Thomas Bach told ATR after a recent IOC Executive Board meeting.

"It is a sovereign parliament, it is a sovereign region," Bach continued, referring to Veneto, which will share the 2026 Games with Lombardy, the two wealthiest regions in Italy. "The IOC is also not in this respect a world government, a super government, where we can impose these kind of measures."

International Bobsleigh and Skeleton (IBSF) president Ivo Ferriani says the Cortina and Veneto agreement is a positive step, however just as he did as an Olympic bobsledder at the Calgary 1988 Winter Games, he is providing his fellow Italians with a big push.

"I don’t want to speak about intentions," Ferriani tells Around the Rings. "I know everything is running in this direction, but I want to see something move, let me say ‘concretely’.

"I am a good friend of Luca Zaia, a good friend of Gianpietro Ghedina, but I always tell them we have to move because the Games are approaching."

Ghedina says plans are to appoint a commissioner to oversee the project in June, who will then move towards hiring a contractor to build the track and infrastructure. A start date to break ground remains uncertain.

Cortina Track History and Monti’s Legacy

The Cortina sliding track was opened for international competition in 1923 and underwent four renovations before it fell into ruin in 2008. For the 1956 Olympics, the track provided a stern test with 16 curves at a length of 1,720 meters. Nine world championships have also been contested at the Cortina venue, the most recent in 1999.

Monti guided Italian sleds to two silver medals at the Cortina 1956 Winter Olympics and proceeded to dominate the sport for the next decade, capturing six of the next seven world titles. His quest to win an Olympic gold medal was halted when Squaw Valley organizers opted not to construct a track for the 1960 Winter Olympics. At the age of 40, Monti finally became an Olympic champion in 1968, winning double gold at the Grenoble Games.

The three-time Olympian and flag bearer for Italy at Innsbruck 1964 remains an iconic figure in the country’s winter sports history, a driving force behind the desire by many to see the dilapidated track rebuilt.

"He was a great sportsman, a great champion and he had a great heart," Ghedina said. "He is definitely a symbol for Cortina."

"We are obliged to rebuild the track," said recently re-elected Italian Olympic Committee president and IOC member Giovanni Malagò, referring to Monti’s legacy.

On Course Despite Opposition

While enduring thoughts of Monti and Cortina’s storied bobsleigh history may conjure visions of an exciting new era for an old sport, many vehemently oppose the project moving forward.

Environmental groups have sent letters to Italian prime minister Mario Draghi calling the project "a waste of money", while others insist Zaia should spend the funds on more important causes. The groups speculate that costs could skyrocket in excess of 80 million Euros.

Despite the many twists, turns, and dissent about the massive undertaking of restoring Cortina’s bobsleigh track, Ghedina, Zaia, Malagò and others in Italian sport and politics insist that the project must cross the finish line in the lead-up to Milano-Cortina 2026.

"Like us, he (Zaia) has put his face on this ever since day one, saying the Cortina Bobs track must be done," Ghedina says, referring to his fellow politician. "We obviously believe in it and we are obviously going ahead on this path without having ever changed our minds."

Cortina 2021 Alpine Ski World Championships

Cortina’s proven success hosting annual World Cup ski races, including the FIS Alpine Ski World Championships in February, is evidence of the 1956 Olympic resort’s expertise and capability in staging international events, factors that should bode well for the future of the sliding track.

The Italian Dolomites resort hosted 600 ski racers from 70 countries, and while the two-week championships were held without spectators, strictly enforced countermeasures prevented the spread of the coronavirus.

"We are proud of the world championships, yes, certainly a very difficult period during a very complex winter season, but we still believed in it," Ghedina said of the FIS signature event. "Above all, a great success with great visibility and a media success for Cortina."

Cortina organizers and Italian sports leaders initially wanted to postpone the event one year for economic factors, a request that FIS rejected. Nevertheless, FIS commended Cortina upon conclusion of the championships as nearly all ran smoothly.

"We understood that the world championships would be a stage towards the Olympics, so we held them with great attention," Ghedina said. "I must say that Cortina certainly came out very well."

Written and reported by Brian Pinelli in Cortina d'Ampezzo

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