Sarajevo 1984

AP

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

Joss Christensen skis remains of Sarajevo 1984 Winter Olympics sites (video)

Joss Christensen
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After winning Sochi Olympic ski slopstyle gold, Joss Christensen wanted to travel somewhere his sport couldn’t take him.

A month later, Christensen was in Sarajevo, host of the 1984 Olympic Winter Games, which took place seven years before he was born and eight years before the Bosnian War broke out and changed the city forever.

Christensen skied the former venues of the Olympics from 30 years ago (and also needed rabies shots after a dog bit his ankle (picture here)) with Karl Fostvedt and Chris Laker.

The scenes were part of of the film “Almost Ablaze.”

IOC provisionally recognizes Kosovo

Ruined Olympic luge track in Sarajevo to be restored

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The luge and bobsled track used at the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics is in its initial phase of restoration, the International Luge Federation announced. The Bosnia and Herzegovina luge association hope to transform the track from an extreme example of Olympic venue gone to waste to a usable sport facility.

The Sarajevo Games were widely considered a success, with highlights including the gold medal-winning skates of British ice dancers Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean and the first ever Olympic medal for host country Yugoslavia, won by skier Jure Franko in the giant slalom. 49 countries competed, a then record.

In 1992, the Bosnian War descended on Sarajevo for a nearly four-year siege. The Olympic facilities became part of the bloody conflict, with the luge and bobsled track used as an artillery stronghold. Smithsonian Magazine reports that “some defensive holes, drilled by troops, can still be seen in the track’s concrete walls.”

In the years since, the bullet hole-ridden Olympic structures have been further overtaken by graffiti and nature. The result is strangely beautiful, and many photographers, such as Jon Pack and Gary Hustwit of The Olympic City project, have made art of the abandoned structures.

But soon, the local luge association hopes, the track will host sliders once again. Clearance work on the bottom section of the track began in late June; when the initial phrase is completed, 720 meters will be restored and usable for summer luge activities.