The Winter Olympics return to Italy with the sprawling Milano-Cortina event

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Milan (AFP) – After two editions in Asia, the 2026 Winter Olympics are returning to Europe and Italy in a massive event that spans hundreds of kilometers.

Milan and Cortina D’Ampezzo’s joint bid defeated Swedish pairing Stockholm and Are 2019 to bring the Winter Games back to Turin two decades after they were last hosted.

Crucially, it will be the first Winter Olympics to be organized jointly by two cities.

It won’t be an easy task given that Milan and Cortina are in two different regions – Lombardy and Veneto – and are about 400 kilometers (250 miles) or five hours apart by road.

The distance is so great that when skier Sofia Goggia crashed in Cortina on the eve of the Beijing Olympics, she had to be flown by helicopter to Milan to have her knee injury assessed.

Federica Brignone, a two-time medalist in alpine skiing at the Beijing Olympics, expressed concern that the long distances at what are likely to be the 31-year-old’s final Games “won’t be good for the Olympic spirit”.

Cortina will host the event for the first time in 70 years and the 2026 games will be played at a winter sports centre.

Cortina d’Ampezzo is a regular venue for Alpine World Cup ski races Jure MAKOVEC AFP

Cortina in the Italian Dolomites and Bormio – one of four event “clusters” – are regular venues for the Alpine Ski World Cup.

The organizers aim to make the best of the existing sports infrastructure in order to limit the economic and environmental impacts that the Winter Games are often criticized for.

The Beijing Olympics have come under scrutiny over the massive use of artificial snow and the construction of alpine ski facilities in a drought-stricken area north of Beijing.

The games before that, the 2018 event in Pyeongchang, South Korea, were hit by freezing cold.

The 2026 Opening Ceremony will take place at Milan’s iconic San Siro Stadium, which will be almost 100 years old when the Games begin.

It is eventually set to be demolished as Serie A football clubs AC Milan and Inter Milan plan to build a new stadium on the same site on the western outskirts.

The two clubs have announced The Cathedral, designed by Populous, who designed Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London.

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Italian media are reporting that no games will be played there until 2027 and on Friday Milan Mayor Giuseppe Sala said the opening ceremony will take place in the current arena with the distinctive concrete structure added in the recent makeover.

“I think the opening ceremony will be in the current San Siro because I know how long it takes to build a new stadium and I don’t think it will be ready,” Sala told reporters at a media conference ahead of the Handing over.

The only new sites to be built for 2026 have already been planned independently of the Games, organizers say — the Arena PalaItalia ice hockey venue and the Milan Olympic Village, which will then be converted into student accommodation.

The venue for alpine skiing at the Beijing Olympics in Yanqing sparked controversy because it was in an area prone to drought
The venue for alpine skiing at the Beijing Olympics in Yanqing sparked controversy because it was in an area prone to drought DIMITAR DILKOFF AFP

However, there are some tensions over some of the infrastructure, most notably the Cortina bobsleigh track.

The Veneto region has pledged to refurbish the historic Eugenio Monti circuit, which has been closed since 2008, for around 60 million euros ($67.9 million).

But the work has been blasted by CIPRA, an international coalition of NGOs dedicated to protecting the Alps, which has advocated “less expensive and greener alternatives” such as moving the events to Innsbruck in Austria, two -hour and a half from Cortina.

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