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

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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

Morgan Hurd left off U.S. gymnastics team for world championships

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Simone Biles is joined on the U.S. team for the world gymnastics championships by five women bidding to make their first Olympic team next year.

Sunisa LeeKara EakerJade Carey, Grace McCallum and MyKayla Skinner were named to the team at the conclusion of selection camp competition Monday in Sarasota, Fla. Biles locked up the first spot by winning an all-around competition on Sunday.

A notable omission was Morgan Hurd, the 2017 World all-around champion in Biles’ absence who was fourth in the all-around at the U.S. Championships in August and ninth at the selection camp on Sunday. Hurd, who came back from December elbow surgery, was named a non-traveling alternate along with Leanne Wong.

Had Hurd made the team, she could have bid to join Biles as the only women to earn all-around medals at three straight world championships. Instead, her absence is a testament to the U.S. women’s depth.

The Americans won every Olympic or world team title dating to 2011, the longest reign of dominance since Soviet teams of the 1970s. Last year, their margin of victory — 8.766 points — was the largest in history at an Olympics or worlds.

A look at the six women on this year’s team, one of which will be designated an on-site alternate at worlds in Stuttgart, Germany:

Simone Biles
Undefeated in all-around competitions for six years, Biles will break more records in Stuttgart. The biggest one is career world championships medals. Biles is at 20, tied with Svetlana Khorkina for the female record. The overall record is 23, held by retired Belarusian Vitaly Scherbo. Last year, Biles became the first gymnast to earn medals in every event at worlds in 31 years and won the all-around by a record margin despite two falls and a kidney stone.

Sunisa Lee
The revelation of this summer. Lee went from third in the junior division at last year’s nationals to second to Biles both at nationals in August and in Sunday’s selection competition. At the latter, Lee was only .35 of a point behind Biles, closer than any of Biles’ last five margins of victory at nationals. She is the national champion on uneven bars and the youngest woman on the team at 16.

Kara Eaker
Eaker solidified her spot by placing third at the selection camp with a score that would have been runner-up to Biles on either day at nationals. Eaker was 10th at nationals with scores more than two points lower than what she did on Sunday. She is a medal contender on balance beam. Eaker had the second-highest beam score in qualifying at worlds last year but fell off the apparatus in the final, placing sixth.

Jade Carey
The 2017 World silver medalist on floor and vault. Carey decided last year to try to make the Olympic team on her own individually — a new wrinkle in Olympic qualifying this cycle — which precluded her from competing at the 2018 Worlds. She’s well on her way to clinching an Olympic spot before June’s trials, but first she will be an asset to this team as its second-ranked floor and vault gymnast behind Biles.

MyKayla Skinner
The 2016 Olympic alternate pulled off the rare feat of making a world team while being an NCAA gymnast (at Utah). Skinner returned to elite gymnastics this season for the first time since Rio and impressed Sunday, placing fourth in the all-around. Like Carey, she specializes on floor and vault.

Grace McCallum
McCallum was third in the all-around at nationals and sixth at the selection camp. The 2018 World team member is best known for her floor, too. She was seventh in qualifying at 2018 Worlds on the event but missed the final due to the two-per-country rule.

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MORE: U.S. men’s team named for gymnastics worlds

Tommie Smith, John Carlos part of U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame class

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Tommie Smith and John Carlos are part of the 2019 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame class that will be inducted later this year.

The sprinters were sent home from the 1968 Mexico City Games after staging a protest by raising their gloved fists on the medals stand. They were long left on the sidelines at the USOPC, but the federation has worked to bring them back inside the family in recent years.

“It sends the message that maybe we had to go back in time and make some conscious decisions about whether we were right or wrong,” Carlos said, according to USA Today. “They’ve come to the conclusion that, ‘Hey man, we were wrong. We were off-base in terms of humanity relative to the human rights era.'”

The class will be inducted at a ceremony in Colorado Springs on Nov. 1. It will be the first class inducted since 2012.

The rest of the class: Candace Cable, Erin Popovich, Chris Waddell (Paralympics), Lisa Leslie (basketball), Nastia Liukin (gymnastics), Misty May-Treanor (beach volleyball), Apolo Anton Ohno (short track speedskating), Dara Torres (swimming), the 1998 U.S. Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey Team), Ron O’Brien (diving coach) and Tim Nugent (special contributor).

After the Hall of Fame essentially stalled out, USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland pushed to revive it as part of a federation effort to focus more on athletes.

“We thank them for their impact on sport and society, and for continuing to inspire the next generation of athletes and fans,” Hirshland said.

The induction of Smith and Carlos is long overdue. After being kicked out of the 1968 Olympics for their iconic raised-fist protest on the medals stand, the sprinters were left on the sideline of the official U.S. Olympic movement. Their 2016 visit to the White House, along with USOPC leaders, marked the first official event they’d been part of since their ouster in 1968.

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VIDEO: Kaepernick introduces Smith, Carlos at USATF Night of Legends