Torch to cross Italy by gondola, horse and Ferrari

Updated: November 23, 2005, 9:06 AM ET
Associated Press

ROME -- Venetian gondolas, horses and even a Ferrari will help transport the torch across Italy for the Turin Olympics.

The Olympic flame begins a 64-day, 7,020-mile relay through every Italian province on Dec. 8, sailing Venice's Grand Canal on gondolas, crossing the Alps on horseback and parading in a sports car through the Ferrari factory.

The flame will be lit Sunday in Ancient Olympia in Greece. After a 10-day relay in Greece, the torch will be flown to Rome.

Italy's Stefano Baldini, the marathon champion at the Athens Olympics, will be the first of 10,000 torchbearers. Each will carry the flame for about 400 yards.

"These 10,000 are an extraordinary symbol of our country's will to be there, to participate in these Olympics," Turin organizing chief Valentino Castellani said at Tuesday's torch relay presentation.

On its first day in Italy, the torch will pass by St. Peter's Square to receive a blessing from Pope Benedict XVI. Later, soccer stars Francesco Totti of AS Roma and Paolo Di Canio of Lazio will set aside the traditional rivalry of their teams to light each other's torch as they run one after the other in the relay.

Other torchbearers include Moroccan runner Hicham El Guerrouj, Italy's national soccer team coach Marcello Lippi and all Italian gold medalists from the Athens and Salt Lake City Games.

The last torchbearer, whose name has not been revealed, will light the flame at the opening ceremony in Turin on Feb. 10.

Before then, the torch will speed through the Ferrari plant in Maranello on Jan. 14 and pass from gondola to gondola in Venice on Jan. 17.

On Jan. 26 the flame will return to Cortina d'Ampezzo for the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Winter Games. There, the sleek aluminum torch will be put to the test when it takes to the sky with a ski jumper and journeys on bobsleds and horses.

Despite its simple design, the torch's internal mechanisms allow it to keep the flame alive in wind up to 75 mph, said designer company Pininfarina SpA.

"Its technical specifications are like those of a small car," said Andrea Pininfarina, chief executive of the Turin-based engineer of Ferraris and Fiats.

A small neighborhood association in Rome said last week it would block the Olympic torch from its streets because the relay is sponsored by Coca-Cola. Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni later said the torch route will not change.

While passing through northern Italy, the torch will also make brief forays into neighboring Slovenia, Austria, Switzerland and France.

Organizers also announced they had chosen 18-year-old figure skater Carolina Kostner to be Italy's flag bearer at the opening ceremony in Turin. Kostner won the bronze medal at the world championships this year.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press