We asked the Sports Illustrated writers who covered the Turin Olympics to leave us with their indelible memory of the Games.
The sledding sports of luge, skeleton and bobsled don't make for great spectating. Sure, it's cool that you can stand next to the track, lean over it and drop your camera or Latvian flag into it if you're not careful.
But you can't see much more of a run than a brief blur unless you watch the giant video screen at the bottom of the hill. And even if you watch that, the only way to tell if you're seeing a good run or a bad run (other than a crash) is by following the comparative intermediate times as they flash on the bottom of the screen.
Given that, and given the limited charms of Cesana Pariol, the endlessly muddy bob venue with the spectacular twilight views and the construction-site ambience, and given the schlep required to get there and the fact that every single event ended in the frigid dark, you'd think no one would have bothered to show up.
You'd be wrong. What I'll remember most about these Olympics are the hearty souls who had a fabulous time wandering the slushy, gravelly infield of Cesana Pariol. I will remember the things they wore -- the fans of Netherlands bobsledder Arno Klaasen were particularly striking in their Parisian-maintenance-crew Day-Glo orange overalls and matching jester hats -- and I'll remember the stuff they carted up the hill and somehow got through security.
There was the Swiss fan who patrolled the edges of Compression Curve during the women's bob event hauling a cowbell the size of a toaster. There was the fan of unknown loyalty who carried what appeared to be a small church bell around the track during the four-man bob event. There was the quartet of Italian fans wearing enormous green-white-and-red afro wigs in support of luger Armin Zoeggeler, who would win Italy's first gold medal. There were the dozen fans of Slovenian luger Domen Poceicha who carried around a bedsheet that read, in English, "Domen, Go Faster than Santa!" One of the dozen had an accordian slung over his shoulder. "That's Slovenia, not Slovakia!" he shouted defiantly to no one in particular.
There were the two American fans from Chicago and Milwaukee who had become smitten with luge in Salt Lake City four years ago. When I met up with them, they had just eaten donkey sausages -- at least that's what they think they were told, in German -- with members of the Zoeggeler Fan Club. The two were carrying three beers between them and basking in the spirit of slittino. They considered the men's luge the best party going in the Alps.
"Where else can you walk the course?" asked Jeff from Chicago. "You can't do it at Alpine skiing. This is like a river of people. You meet people, you exchange e-mails."
Over at the notoriously tricky Curve 14, I met Chris Holcombe, a college student from Cape Cod who wore an American flag around his shoulders and a reasonably sized cowbell around his neck. Like me, he was a newcomer to luge. His first impression? "It seems to me in this sport that you either set a world record or you die," he said.
Like everyone else lining the track, he had a camera in his hand. He had positioned himself to photograph a luger sliding past the "Torino 2006" logo embedded in the ice on Curve 14. Miraculously, he caught a luger on his digital after just a few tries. Most people I encountered were like me and never captured anything but white ice.
No matter where you were on the sinuous track, you couldn't really see a sled coming, you could only hear the announcer calling out the racer's intermediate times and his progress through curves with names like Gemelli (the twins) or Lavatrice (the washing machine). As the sled approached your curve, you'd hear a low rumble. Then there was a flash of color and a receding rumble as the racer whipped by at 80 mph. Then a ripple of giggles as people reviewed their pictures of luge-less white ice. As I walked the course I heard, "I just missed him!" in 10 different languages. Then, "I got him!" in Italian-accented English.
A guy by Curva Lavatrice was holding up his cell phone triumphantly. "I have a secret, I am a professional photographer," Giulio Lapone told me. He shoots for Torino Croneca, a local paper, but like 99 percent of the professional photographers in Turin, he wasn't able to get a credential to shoot the Games, so he was working for a sponsor. "The world's greatest photographers are here. What can you do?" he said.
You can do as luge fans the world over do: Grab a donkey sausage, a beer and a cowbell, snap some non-photos of Domen going faster than Santa and have a great time.