As you walk through the door at Al Passetto pizzeria, it is hard not to immediately be captivated by the numerous Olympic torches decoratively adorning its rustic wooden interior.
The cozy, popular Cortina d’Ampezzo restaurant serves up not only some 80 varieties of pizza, but also countless Olympic memories thanks to owner Giorgio Ghedina’s expansive collection of torches, naturally including Cortina 1956, but also dating to Berlin 1936.
Ghedina’s latest addition is from Tokyo 2020, his 28th in total. The Japanese torch, recently removed from its casing, has yet to be mounted on the walls alongside the others.
“The Olympics is a beautiful competition and I’m very interested in helping to tell the stories of the Olympic Games,” Ghedina tells Around the Rings, over a friendly conversation at Al Passetto. “First, I had one from Cortina and then I bought one from Torino after I ran with the flame, which was fantastic.”
Ghedina has searched the globe near and far to build his collection having received assistance from his nephew, five-time Olympic downhill skier and Cortina local Kristian Ghedina, in addition to Italian Olympic Committee president Giovanni Malago, among others.
“I had a friend buy for me the Olympic torch in Vancouver and then there was Sochi because my nephew Kristian went there - I started piece by piece,” Ghedina explains.
Hanging directly above the kitchen window, seven torches, including Rome 1960, Seoul 1988, Atlanta 1996 and London 2012 are visible to guests, in addition to an old pair of Ghedina’s race skis that he busted at a downhill race in Wengen, Switzerland in the 1990′s. Adding to the themed restaurant’s aura, the 1956 Olympic torch is prominently displayed on the front of the menu.
These days Ghedina routinely runs around the busy Italian eatery serving guests tasty pizza and regional specialties, but he admits his other role as “museum curator” is a never-ending pursuit. The Italian restauranteur’s collection is far from complete – he is missing torches from memorable Winter Games including Squaw Valley 1960, Grenoble 1968, Albertville 1992 and Lillehammer 1994.
“I tried to buy one from Lillehammer, but it was too expensive – it’s not like diamonds where there is a set price,” Ghedina says, noting that the owner was asking for roughly $30,000.
Ghedina, a former bobsledder on Italy’s national team who was born in Cortina three years after the 1956 Games, tells the story of how he was unexpectedly able to upgrade his Cortina 1956 replica to an original version, just four years ago.
“The Italian Olympic Committee gave the torch to the mayor of Belluno many years ago,” Ghedina says, referring to the nearby city in Veneto. “His grandson came to the restaurant one day for lunch and he brought with him an original one from Cortina – I bought it from him,” he said, noting the cost of 4,000 Euros.
Ghedina notes that over the years since the restaurant opened in 1999, numerous World Cup ski racers have visited Al Passetto for a pizza and trip down Olympic memory lane. He mentions retired U.S. racers Julia Mancuso and Lindsey Vonn, in addition to Slovenian Tina Maze, a new resident of Cortina.
“They all want to see the torches from their Olympic Games,” he says.
Ghedina believes the upcoming Milan-Cortina 2026 Games will once again transform the historic Italian ski resort town as did the 1956 Olympics.
“When I have to introduce Cortina d’Ampezzo and its location in the world to someone who doesn’t know about it, I explain two things – the Dolomites and the Olympic Games 1956.
“For 50 years, we had a low profile here – with the next Olympics in 2026 and also the recent world ski championships, there is more interest once again in Cortina.
“From my point of view, I’m also very interested in the Paralympics because we have to do everything to break down barriers. If I was mayor here, my dream is to make the first mountain city without barriers and accessibility for everyone in wheelchairs,” Ghedina says.
Ghedina greatly anticipates adding a fourth Olympic torch from an Italian Olympic Games, to accompany his three others, on the walls of Al Passetto.
Looking forward to Milano-Cortina 2026, Ghedina says: “We are just a group of friends that all want to carry the torches – for us there is a very good tradition here.”
Follow Brian on Twitter - @Brian_Pinelli