Sarajevo Olympic bobsled, luge track restored, in use again after Bosnian war

AP
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MOUNT TREBEVIC, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Sports enthusiasts and former athletes in Bosnia have taken it upon themselves to reclaim some of the glory Sarajevo savored as host of the 1984 Olympics – and in the process rekindled the flame of international cooperation.

Since the country lacks the resources to rebuild the Olympic facilities that were destroyed in the deadly war that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia, volunteers bought tools, rolled up their sleeves and got to work.

At first, they planned to restore the bobsled and luge track on Mount Trebevic just so it could be used by the Bosnian national team for summer training. But the previously abandoned facility became a draw for athletes from throughout Europe.

“We bought some tools with our own money and started cleaning the track from vegetation, debris and mud,” Senad Omanovic, the head of Bosnia’s Bobsleigh Federation, recalled. “We had trees growing out of the track.”

The 1992-95 Bosnian war was the most brutal conflict on European soil since World War II. It took over 100,000 lives and turned more than half the population into refugees.

It also trashed the decade-old Olympic facilities on the mountains around Sarajevo, venues residents once proudly looked up to from downtown as symbols of one of the city’s most glorious moments. During the war, Sarajevans hid from the artillery and snipers Bosnian Serbs had placed on the Dinaric Alps.

War turned the bobsled and luge track on Mount Trebevic, overlooking Sarajevo, into a concrete skeleton that eventually became covered with graffiti and trash. Little remains of the ski-jump facilities on Mount Igman, another site of fierce fighting. The men’s downhill courses on Bjelasnica were resurrected as the city’s main ski resort, but only after the land mines around them were cleared.

It took Omanovic and his teammates years to clean the bob- and luge track where in 1984 teams from the German Democratic Republic took the gold and silver medals. They could only approach the Trebevic track after mine-removal experts cleared its entire length.

As word spread through Eastern Europe that the Olympic track had been fixed up, teams in other countries approached Omanovic to ask about practicing there. The first was from Slovakia.

Omanovic recalled frankly telling the Slovaks the facility lacked locker rooms, timing sensors and even toilets. They insisted the Sarajevo track, despite its rough history and condition, was among the best of the nine tracks available around the world for summer training.

Tackling the course on wheeled equipment, racers can achieve speeds of 130 kilometers (81 miles) per hour. After Slovakia, teams from Poland, Turkey, Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia followed.

“So this became a regional training center,” said Omanovic, who now hopes the track will one day achieve its “old glory.”

Jacob Simonek, a member of the Slovakian team that has practiced in Sarajevo six times now, said the track was “a bit bumpy but good” despite its age and battle scars.

On the other end of town, the ski-jump facilities on Mount Igman still stand as sad relics of war.

Selver Merdanovic, a former ski jumper for Bosnia, has started working to revive the two small jumps so the 15 children from his club team can practice there. Rebuilding the high jumps, an expensive endeavor, remains a distance dream.

“I’m trying to return this sport to Bosnia,” Merdanovic said. “I wish this to be my legacy.”

MORE: Johnny Quinn leaves door open for bobsled return

Diana Taurasi returns to U.S. national basketball team

Diana Taurasi
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Diana Taurasi is set to return to the U.S. national basketball team next week for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics, signaling a possible bid for a record-breaking sixth Olympic appearance in 2024 at age 42.

Taurasi is on the 15-player roster for next week’s training camp in Minnesota announced Tuesday.

Brittney Griner is not on the list but is expected to return to competitive basketball later this year with her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury (also Taurasi’s longtime team, though she is currently a free agent), after being detained in Russia for 10 months in 2022.

Taurasi said as far back as the 2016 Rio Games that her Olympic career was likely over, but returned to the national team after Dawn Staley succeeded Geno Auriemma as head coach in 2017.

In Tokyo, Taurasi and longtime backcourt partner Sue Bird became the first basketball players to win five Olympic gold medals. Bird has since retired.

After beating Japan in the final, Taurasi said “see you in Paris,” smiling, as she left an NBC interview. That’s now looking less like a joke and more like a prediction.

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve succeeded Staley as head coach last year. In early fall, she guided the U.S. to arguably the best FIBA World Cup performance ever, despite not having stalwarts Bird, Griner, Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles.

Taurasi was not in contention for the team after suffering a WNBA season-ending quad injury in the summer. Taurasi, who is 38-0 in Olympic games and started every game at the last four Olympics, wasn’t on a U.S. team for an Olympics or worlds for the first time since 2002.

Next year, Taurasi can become the oldest Olympic basketball player in history and the first to play in six Games, according to Olympedia.org. Spain’s Rudy Fernandez could also play in a sixth Olympics in 2024.

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Mo Farah likely to retire this year

Mo Farah
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British track legend Mo Farah will likely retire by the end of this year.

“I’m not going to go to the Olympics, and I think 2023 will probably be my last year,” the 39-year-old Farah said, according to multiple British media reports.

Farah, who swept the 5000m and 10,000m golds at the Olympics in 2012 and 2016, was announced Tuesday as part of the field for the London Marathon on April 23.

Last May, Farah reportedly said he believed his career on the track was over, but not the roads.

London might not be his last marathon. Farah also said that if, toward the end of this year, he was capable of being picked to run for Britain again, he would “never turn that down,” according to Tuesday’s reports.

It’s not clear if Farah was referencing the world track and field championships, which include a marathon and are in Budapest in August. Or selection for the 2024 British Olympic marathon team.

The fastest British male marathoner last year ran 2:10:46, ranking outside the top 300 in the world. Farah broke 2:10 in all five marathons that he’s finished, but he hasn’t run one since October 2019 (aside from pacing the 2020 London Marathon).

Farah withdrew four days before the last London Marathon on Oct. 2, citing a right hip injury.

Farah switched from the track to the marathon after the 2017 World Championships and won the 2018 Chicago Marathon in a then-European record time of 2:05:11. Belgium’s Bashir Abdi now holds the record at 2:03:36.

Farah’s best London Marathon finish in four starts was third place in 2018.

Farah returned to the track in a failed bid to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, then shifted back to the roads.

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