Sarajevo stood at the centre of the world 30 years ago as host of the 1984 Olympic Games, when it represented the Olympic ideal of peaceful co-existence.
By Ana Lovaković for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo -- 30/01/14
Vucko, the mascot of the 1984 Olympics, remains a popular image in Sarajevo. [Bedrana Kaletovic/SETimes]
As 89 Olympians from the region travel to Russia for next week's opening ceremonies of the 22nd Winter Olympics in Sochi, Sarajevo is spending this winter remembering its Olympic past, discussing rejuvenation of its sport facilities and planning for a future that will bring another major international athletic competition to the city.
The Olympic Committee of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) launched the project Olympic Family: Celebrating Olympism, a series of events to mark the 30th anniversary of the 14th Winter Games in Sarajevo and to promote the 13th European Youth Olympic Festival, which the city will host in 2017. Among the highlights is the Sarajevo Open 2014, an international figure skating competition January 31st-February 2nd (Friday through Sunday). And on February 1st (Saturday) there will be a ceremony as the BiH Olympic contingent departs for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
The celebrations are a reminder of the unforgettable 15 days in 1984 when Sarajevo stood at the centre of the world, representing the Olympic ideal of peaceful co-existence. The Sarajevo Games drew high praise for being well-organised. Construction of the facilities was completed a year ahead of time, and nearly 1,300 athletes competed at closely clustered venues located within a radius of 24 kilometres.
With the exception of a few groomed ski slopes and the restored Zetra Olympic Hall, which was destroyed during the war and rebuilt in the late 1990s, little remains of the 1984 Games. There are photos and memories, but in the chaos that gripped Sarajevo during and after the war many Olympic venues -- like the bobsled track on Trebevic Mountain and the ski jumping ramps on Igman Mountain -- today are ghostly relics, abandoned in the hills surrounding the city.
"The fact is that some of the Olympic venues were not renewed, the bobsled track is still in a very dilapidated state. I have no illusions that money could be found now to return it to its original function. I think Sarajevo should be a candidate for one of the next Winter Olympics. If we do not try to get the Games, we remain in the status quo. If we stand for them, we open new prospects for youth," Ahmed Karabegović, the secretary general of the organising committee for the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics, told SETimes.
In the past 20 years, Sarajevo has not hosted any significant international competitions in winter sports. But there are indications that the spirit which three decades ago brought the world to Sarajevo is being revived. In three years, the city will play host to the European Youth Olympic Festival (EYOF), which will include 1,500 athletes from 48 nations -- more than there were at the Olympics 30 years ago. Preparations for the EYOF have ignited a new Olympic flame for BiH's sport landscape.
Some of the Olympic infrastructure used 1984 will be renovated for the EYOF, which will feature competition in alpine skiing, snowboarding, cross country skiing, biathlon, figure skating, speed skating, and hockey.
Ranko Covic, a member of the EYOF 2017 organising committee, told SETimes that as BiH sought to attract the event to Sarajevo, it had the support of Olympic committees in the region and across Europe.
"It is a very complex project, a big job, in which we will need the support of all levels of government," Covic said.
He explained that organisers will need to gain approval from the International Ski Federation to reconstruct the Nordic skiing trail on Igman and the slalom and giant slalom trails on Jahorina. Work also must be completed to create artificial snow-making facilities on Bjelasnica and Jahorina mountains.
A short-track speed skating hall was built in Pale, southeast of Sarajevo, and there are plans to construct an ice arena in Sarajevo that will be used for figure skating. Ski lifts on Jahorina have been completed.
But there are some issues to overcome.
"Reconstruction of the ski jump is not planned because they no longer correspond to modern standards and there are no funds to build new ones," Covic said.
Sinisa Kisić, president of the BiH Olympic Committee, said the nation is slowly reconnecting with the Olympic spirit and values.
"I am happy to have the opportunity to express the Olympic spirit and turn to the future," Kisic told SETimes. "At the competition in 2017 children will participate who were born in the 21st century, which is important for the country. We are on the road to the EU and thus we want to show willingness to organise sports competitions."