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Turin, the Games that surprised but did not astonish

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TURIN, Feb 27 (Reuters) The Turin Winter Olympics may have to go down as the Games which surprised, yet failed to astonish.

The success of the Games, which closed yesterday, certainly surprised the many doubters who had viewed its highly unpromising build-up with some trepidation.

Budget cuts, political in-fighting, security concerns, anti-globalisation and environmental protests and chaotic preparations had all threatened to turn the Turin dream into a nightmare.

But someone, somewhere, waved a magic wand on the day of the opening ceremony and it really did turn out to be all right on the night.

The Olympic cauldron was lit by Italian former cross-country skier Stefania Belmondo on cue on Feb. 10, yet somehow, once competition got under way, the Games smouldered on the slow burner rather than fully igniting.

The sun shone, the venues sparkled and the competitions ran efficiently but there were few breath-taking moments to cause astonishment for spectators or television viewers.

The slogan of the Games -- ''Passion Lives Here'' -- was destined to tax the Turin and Piemonte population, reputed in Italy to be less flamboyant than the majority of their fellow countrymen.

Though they responded beyond expectation, there was more enthusiasm than passion, more joy than elation and more fizz than fireworks.

It did not help that the much-vaunted names failed to live up to their pre-Games hype.

Bode Miller, the extravagant American Alpine all-rounder, came with five medals in his sights and left empty-handed, his late-night bar habits prompting many a joke about the amount of time he spent on the piste.

If he failed to emerge as the personality of the Games, then so did the other high profile athletes such as Alpine skier Janica Kostelic of Croatia and American speedskater Chad Hedrick who grabbed medals but not the expected multi-golden haul.

It left the Games without a clear sporting focus, something which the organisers could hardly be blamed for.

Instead, the running saga of the Turin Olympics was the doping raid on the Austrian cross-country and biathlon team which dominated the headlines for six days before ending with the relative damp squib of 10 negative tests.

If it detracted from the sporting aspect of the Games, it did at least show the International Olympic Committee is seriously chasing the drug cheats.

But on the closing day, only one competitor, Russian biathlete Olga Pyleva, had failed a dope test in Turin.

Surprising enough too -- but hardly astonishing.

Reuters SK VP0715

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