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Austria in 2014!
A visit to Austria House at the Italian Winter Games, nets good food, great athletes, and maybe a new Olympic city
By Alexandra Coffey
Scholastic Kids Press Corps

Scholastic Kid Reporters Sean and Alexandra Coffey (and their their little
Scholastic Kid Reporters Sean and Alexandra Coffey (and their their little sister Samantha) with world champion skier Benjamim Reich of Austria. Reich, who won a gold medal in giant slalom, dropped into Austria House in Torino, Italy, to celebrate with his countrymen.
(Photo: Sean and Alexandra Coffey)
Tuesday, February 21—It's 10:30 at night, in Sestriere, Italy, in the heart of the Alps. Austrian officials, fans and athletes are singing songs and having fun. There is a giant spread of food and desserts. It's all in Austria House, team headquarters for the most dominant skiing country in the world. And it's all on a day when the Austrians have won five skiing medals: three golds and two bronzes. There's plenty to celebrate.

Austria House is a cheerful, modern club that looks a little like a barn in the Alps, with a big window overlooking the Olympic ski slopes. It shows off Austrian cuisine by serving schnitzel, strudel, and other national foods—all of it served by Austrian waitresses wearing long blue and red skirts, black heels, and white peasant blouses. It may be Italy, but it feels like Vienna.

The men are wearing red and white shirts—the colors of the Austrian flag. There are fancy parties at the club every night—but especially when Austria has a banner day like today. It's easy to tell when that happens, because a projector lights up the side of the building with two-foot tall letters that say: GOLD, SILVER, or BRONZE. Tonight the wall is doubly bright with GOLD and BRONZE.

The cool thing is that the party is free—every night. To attend you just need a special pass to get by the 300-pound bouncer at the door. We got our pass from a press official for the Austrian ski team.

The parties cost thousands and thousands of euros (the European currency). The bill is footed by Salzburg 2014, the organization hoping to bring the Winter Olympics to that city eight years from now. Salzburg would get my vote, that's for sure.

A few hours into the party, Austrian hero Benjamin Raich arrives. He has come straight from Torino, where he just received his gold medal for winning the Olympic giant slalom earlier in the day.

"Benni! Benni!" everyone chants as he enters the room. Someone celebrates by lighting a giant sparkler while Benni is being interviewed by Austrian TV. (Not a good idea when you are inside!)

Benni is a very popular man on the world ski circuit. He's boyish looking and humble. He poses for photos and shows people his gold medal. He is hugged by just about everyone in the room.

Benni Raich is not the only celebrity in Austria House. Michaela Dorfmeister, a 32-year-old skier who won her second gold of the Olympics, also stops by. So does Hermann Maier, the best Austrian skier of this era. He used to be a bricklayer, but now he speeds down mountains.

Lewis Johnson, a skiing broadcaster for NBC, and a very friendly man, is standing near the schnitzel talking to us while amidst all the excitement.

With great food and soaring national spirit, Austria House has become a hotspot in Sestriere. It also seems to have won over a lot of supporters for Salzburg 2014.

Chris Dufresne of the Los Angeles Times puts it well as he balances a plate of berries in vanilla sauce. "Austria House is definitely the place to be in the Olympics," Dufresne says.

Photos, left to right: © Rick Rickman/NewSport/NewSport/Corbis; © Joe Cavaretta/AP Wide World.