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Is Torino ready to host the Olympics?

The thumbnail of Torino shows a second-tier city at the foot of the Alps — Italy's Detroit, some call it — well off the tourist trail and a shopworn, shrinking city. NBC's Mike Taibbi reports that  hosting the Olympics is a surprise chance at rebirth.

When Torino was selected to host the Winter Olympics more than six years ago, a lot of the reaction worldwide was “What?” and “Where?”

The thumbnail: Torino is second-tier industrial city at the foot of the Alps — well off the tourist trail, which even hometown automaker Fiat has been gradually abandoning. It is a town Hannibal once leveled. It’s smog-covered skyline is the color of a bad cold. Landing the Olympics was a surprise chance at rebirth.

"It's really a starting point to be again on the map," says Torino International's Paolo Verri.

Still, before the first of perhaps a million visitors could start following the map to Torino — and to its chocolates, fine wines, museums and baroque grandeur — there were budget problems and lots of red tape leading to last-minute rush jobs.

In fact, it's down to the wire at work sites all over this city — and even below it, where half of a long-promised subway system has been put through its final tests.

Except for some cosmetics, the system does seem ready to go, as does this whole city. The venues are state of the art. The security force is 10,000 strong.

But what's missing here is Olympic-scale enthusiasm. Despite a snazzy "passion lives here" promo campaign, one observer has called these games the "stealth Olympics," sneaking up not just on Italy but on Torino's citizens as well.

"They are quite cool," says Gabriele Ferraris, a reporter with the newspaper La Stampa. "They are waiting to see what will really happen."

What might happen is that it could all break right for Torino — maybe a run to glory by Italian skier Giorgio Rocca or a compatriot or two.

"If Italian heroes are up on the stage," says organizer Verri, "everybody want to be a part of the Olympic Games."

Or even just an Olympics of memorable performances in dramatic settings, hosted by a city all can see is ready to reclaim its future.