It was mid-winter, and the Jahorina ski resort was only 45 minutes away from Sarajevo, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to do a little cross-country skiing. Jahorina is a former venue from the 1984 Winter Olympic Games, hosting the Women’s Downhill event. I love the Olympics, Summer and Winter, so that was another reason to head up the mountains out of town for a look around.
I hired a car and began the climb out of Sarajevo. It was snowing steadily, and when I wasn’t far out of Pale (‘Parlay’) I noticed someone by the side of the road. They were waiting at an intersection, sheltering as best they could under a tree. I pulled over. The conversation went something like this: ‘Hello mate, are you ok?’ ‘Answer in Bosnian.’ ‘Err, right. Do you need a ride somewhere?’ ‘Answer in Bosnian.’ ‘Ahh…ok….umm…Pale?’ ‘Answer in Bosnian with head nods.’ ‘Hop in (approriate international hand gesture for jump in the car mate)’.
He was a bloke in his 60s, I guessed, and we sat in silence as we motored through the snow. I wondered how long he had waited there in the cold for a ride. After a while we reached the turn-off to Pale, and my passenger waved in the direction of the town. We turned, and when we entered the built-up area I slowed and waited for directions. None were forthcoming so I just headed straight on, until he suddenly motioned towards the footpath. I pulled over, the bloke climbed out, said something in Bosnian, and wandered off.
Job done I resumed my drive up the mountain and soon came upon set of the Olympic Rings at the entrance to the resort.
There they are sports fans. Those five big rings
After checking in to my accomodation, I got back in touch with my cross-country instructor to finalise some details for the next day’s lesson.
With snow falling lightly outside, I went for a walk aound the resort area, enjoying being back above the snowline.
Yeah them rings…
Next day I met my instructor Stefan, who just happened to be an international top-level cross country and biathlon competitor, and the son of a Sarajevo Olympian. He also knew my previous instructor and triple-Olympian Darko from North Macedonia, so once again I felt I was learning from the best. We headed down to the Dvorišta Nordic Ski Centre, which wasn’t used back in 1984, but had hosted the Biathlon event at the 2019 European Youth Olympic Winter Festival.
With a selection of loops of different lengths travelling through the forest it was a beautiful place to ski.
Those ol’ ring-a-roos
Over the next few days I alternated between lessons and practice, and I’m happy to report by the end of the week I was definitely less shithouse than when I started. I was at Jahorina over a weekend and took the opportunity to check out the Saturday morning competition held at the Nordic Ski Centre. Amongst the competitors was the Bosnia Herzegovina men’s cross country representative from the Tokyo Olympics. There were a bunch of kids duelling it out in the younger grades, and perhaps a few future Olympians amongst them.
Here’s Stefan competing in the Open Mens’, with me trying to cheer him on with my sunglasses leg in my mouth.
Stefan gave me a Bosnia Herzegovina Olympic Committee winter ski cap, which is a very cool souvenir from my visit to Jahorina.
One afternoon I took the chairlift to the summit of Jahorina to check out the alpine skiing action. I’m not sure which run was used for the Women’s Downhill, but it was pretty speccy up there.
After a really enjoyable time on the mountain I headed back to Sarajevo, picking up a lady who was waiting in the snow on the way and dropping her off in a nearby town. Seems like just what you do. Back it the city, it was time to check out the Sarajevo Olympic Museum.
The Museum is located within a suitably grand building, and is chock full of information and displays. It was also chock full of school kids when I visited, but despite this I still had a great time.
Slovenian artist Jove Trobec’s creation ‘Vučko’ (Vooch-koh) was selected as the Olympic Mascot for the 1984 Games. This lovable wolf was hugely popular, despite (or maybe because of) the fact he was crap at winter sports.
For Vučko, ever day is Red Nose Day
I reckon Vučko’s promo cartoons are great. The quality of the following clips isn’t, but that’s genuine 1980s TV right there.
Unlike Vučko, I’m not sure how popular this interpretation of the Olympic Rings was though.
Grandma Marijana’s dumplings were the best in town
Talking of art, the official Sarajevo Olympic posters have a bit of a ‘graphic novel’ illustration feel to them. Here’s Speed Skating…
‘…does whatever a spider can.’
…and here’s Two Man Luge:
Sit in another bloke’s lap, grab you crotch and go go go!!
Talking of downhill disciplines, the Museum claims that the sport of Bobsleigh originated with a group of young thrillseekers from Sarajevo, who rode ‘down the slope of Trebevic on a bean of his own construction‘. Presumably the sport really took off when athletes began to ride sleighs instead of beans.
Despite the rich history of Bobsleigh in Sarajevo, it was the East German team that cleaned up in the ’84 event, taking gold and silver in both the four and two-man disciplines (there was no womens’ Bobsleigh in 1984). Considering the GDR state-sponsored provision of ‘support products’ to athletes during the 80s, thIS result has to be regarded with suspicion.
Olympic opening ceremonies often look state-of-the-art at the time, and yet totally daggy shortly afterwards. The Sarajevo fashion designers went for this purple number, which has a touch of the Ziggy Stardust about it.
‘The mothership’s landed…’
Here’s a shot from the Sarajevo Opening Ceremony where performers are wearing their purple romper suits and doing something odd.
Only eight years after the successful hosting of the Olympic Winter Games, Sarajevo was plunged into the longest siege in modern history. The Museum presented a number of displays acknowledging the way in which the ‘Olympic Family’ voiced support for the former host nation.
One example is the ‘Message of Solidarity’ sent by 1994 Games host Lillehammer stating ‘Inhabitants and visitors in Lillehammer send their deepest sympathies to the troubles people of Sarajevo. We hope that the war may soon come to an end, and pledge that we, during the Olympic Games in Lillehammer, will gather funds which can contribute to relieve your sufferings’.
The Sarajevo Olympic Museum was not spared from shelling during the war, and although damage was done, thankfully most of the artefacts were saved. On display is a medal that was fire-damaged during an attack…
…and here’s a mint example for comparison.
On the subject of gold medals, it was at Sarajevo that British figure skating pair Torvil and Dean became household names. In the Ice Dance category, Jane and Chris were awarded perfect scores from all the judges, which won them gold and catapulted them to Olympic stardom.
After visiting Jahorina, and spending a very enjoyable time at the Olympic Museum, there was just one thing left on my Sarajevo Olympics list. The Bobsleigh course was built just out of Sarajevo City, and although abandoned, most of it is still intact. So I packed some lunch and headed off to check it out.
The outer suburbs of Sarajevo are built on some unfeasibly steep slopes, and how the whole thing doesn’t let go and slide down into the Miljacka River is beyond me. I laboured up the narrow roads until I reached the forest, then followed a single-track path from there. After passing a couple of ruined buildings, I reached the final turn and finishing line of the Bobsleigh run.
Graffiti artists have gone to town on the concrete track, leaving technicolour murals along the length of the course. Stepping onto the track, I wound my way up the 1200-odd metres to the top.
Being on the track itself gave you a good idea of how steep an Olympic Bobsleigh run is, how high the banked corners are, and how certifiably insane bobsleighers must be.
Along the course were junctions, where railway-like points could be changed to adjust the course.
‘Sleigh comin’. Did you change those points Trev?’ ‘Nah mate I thought you did…’
The views over the city from the top of the course were spectacular, and a great place to have lunch and a breather after the climb.
Exploring the Bobsleigh course was a very cool way to spend a day, and I definitely felt I’d had a suitably Olympic workout by the time I made it back to my apartment.
After taking time to learn about the Bosnian War and the Siege of Sarajevo, it was a relief to lighten things up a bit and explore the city’s Olympic history. It also took me back to being a kid again, watching the ’84 Olympic Winter Games during the Australian summer, and marvelling at the courage and skill of the athletes as they competed in death-defying sports.
Visit the Sarajevo Olympic Museum here
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