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The new spectator sport: getting tickets to the Olympics

Monitor reporter Peter Ford braves the online ticket 'beast' and mysterious callers - all in his quest to cover the Games in Turin, Italy, next month.

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It sounded like the perfect journalistic assignment for a sports fan such as myself: Order tickets to 10 Winter Olympics events of my choice, then go to Turin, Italy, in February to write about them for the Monitor.

Well, the Turin bit of this job had better be good, because the order-the-tickets preliminaries have been a nightmare.

Not that there was any dramatic shortage of seats when I went onto the Turin Olympics ticketing website in early December. Sure, figure skating tickets were scarce, and it's a good thing I have no burning urge to attend the opening ceremony: The tickets for that started at $300 and went above $1,000. But there was a decent enough selection for a dilettante such as myself.

When I hit "enter" to submit my order, however, all I got was a message saying that the site was unable to process my request at this time. So I tried again later. And still later. And again the next day.

Eventually, I rang the ticket office and placed my order over the phone. The young woman who took it, however, was punching the data into exactly the same system; she had the same problem.

Perhaps, she suggested, I should break my order into two batches of four tickets. Even that subterfuge failed several times, but in the end I fooled the beast and slipped my orders past it. I knew I had succeeded because within hours the system, so slow to cough up my tickets, had debited my credit card.

"Tickets will be shipped, a few weeks before the start of the Games, via a secure courier," the order confirmation web page promised me.

So when five weeks later a young man rang me, and in conspiratorial tone let me in on the secret that he had a confidential package for me "related to your journey to Italy next February," I guessed it contained my tickets.

The mystery caller refused to confirm that however, and said only that the courier company he represented, TNT, required me to choose a day for delivery and stay at my declared address from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

That, I told him, was impossible. I am a journalist. I have work to do. I go out sometimes. That flummoxed him. He said he would call back if he thought of a solution.


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