The Sarajevo 1984 Winter Olympics the first winter Olympics to be held in a communist state. It ran its course peacefully, with no indication of what troubles lie ahead in the not too distant future. For all intents and purposes it was a very successful games, despite the Olympic flag being raised upside down during the opening ceremony (oops). For those 11 days, between Feb 8th and 19th of 1984, Sarajevo and their wolf mascot Vučko were at the sporting centre of the world. Things had rarely been better in the now Bosnian capital than during Sarajevo 1984 Winter Olympics.
From Sarajevo 1984 Winter Olympics to the present day
Fast forward 30 years to the present day and things are very different. With the break up of the former Yugoslavia in the early 90’s, war tore through a now independent Bosnia, specially its capital. Between 1993 and 1996 Sarajevo was completely and utterly under siege. Serb forces surrounded the city and pounded its streets with mortar and heavy artillery fire. Though Bosnian forces eventually prevailed, thousands of lives were tragically lost, and the city of Sarajevo was a shell of its former self.
Today the city is once again in a good place and attracting tourism through its beautiful architecture, friendly locals and their traditions, but at the same time it still bears the scars of one of the longest sieges in modern day history. During the siege of Sarajevo, the invading Serb forces used the higher ground surrounding Sarajevo to their advantage. This tactic saw those forces occupy a certain Mount Trabevic, a mountain that was once the site of two separate 1984 Winter Olympic events – the Bobsleigh and the Luge. 30 years on from the Olympics and upon my first visit to Bosnia, I decided that I would hike some 5km up part of Mt Trabevic from the centre of Sarajevo. My goal being to find the remains of the bobsleigh/luge track and see how it now stood. Truth be told I already knew what to expect, but wanted to see for myself what had become of the site.
The hike up Mount Trabevic
It’s only since completing the hike and making it to the bobsleigh track that I have come to understand that most people just take a taxi. Ah well, it was good exercise. I set out from my hostel (Franz Ferdinand – highly recommended) with nothing more than a screen printed Google map and my camera. Searching for directions on Google earlier in the day, I had been presented with a route that should have taken around about 65 minutes. I like to think that on most occasions I can beat Google’s predicted travel times, but in this case I was sadly mistaken. I’m not sure Google took gradient into consideration on this one.
The climb up and out of Sarajevo’s centre was taxing. The hill roads were steep and slippery. Where there should have been snow, there had been only rain over the past week and as a result mud clung to the soles of my trainers making them far heavier than my aching legs wanted them to be.
Whilst it was a tough climb, it wasn’t unspectacular. In fact, on the occasions my body required me to stop for a breather or a sip of water, I was presented with some incredible views over the city.
Moving further out of the city and up into what I later heard referred to as the ‘mountain village’, I started to find the whole thing quite enjoyable. Yes my legs burned, but this was unlike too many places I had ever traveled to before. Plus there were small puppies wandering the streets who were really quite cute.
The bobsleigh track – first impressions
Two hours or so later, slightly sweaty but having only taken one or two wrong turns, I made it. My first impressions went something like this …
Errr, this is well creepy!
I mean that not as a slur, but I was a little creeped out. The bobsleigh track from Sarajevo 1984 Winter Olympics was as I expected it, run down and beyond repair, covered in both foliage and graffiti. But it wasn’t the track that freaked me so much, more the remains of what must have been preparation, storage and media buildings in the area which were now open to the elements and riddled with both bullet holes and scary looking artwork. It was also deadly quiet up on the mountain. Whilst I knew I was visiting Bosnia in the off season, I thought the bobsleigh site would be a popular tour destination, but I didn’t see another sole the entire time I wandered the area.
When I say wandered the area, let me be clear that I stuck to the roads and the track itself. It is fact that the area was occupied by Serb forces during the siege, and as such I was reliably told that there is every possibility that the forest surrounding the bobsleigh track may still contain a few nasty surprises – i.e. landmines. Whether that is true or not I have no idea, but best be safe that sorry. In hindsight maybe I was a little stupid and/naive to trek up Mt Trabevic on my own!?
Walking Sarajevo 1984 Winter Olympics bobsleigh track
Once I had slowly adjusted to my surroundings and started to feel a little more comfortable, I actually really started to enjoy the track. My cameras came out of my rucksack and I started to snap away. Naturally the first part of the track I reached was the finish line – the lowest part of the track. I therefore decided to take a walk up the track in a reverse fashion to see how far it stretches – some way would be the answer.
I walked the track as far as I felt comfortable doing so, stopping when I reached this junctions which I really didn’t understand (photo above). Anyway, lack of understanding or not I did a 180 and headed back down in the same direction those brave Olympians would have done 30 years ago. The only differences being that they were in a bobsleigh and travelling close to 80mph, where I was walking at around 4mph and carrying a GoPro. Want to see the result? Read right this way …
Whilst seeing the track in this condition was interesting, it was also obviously quite sad at the same time. Of course Sarajevo 1984 Winter Olympics bobsleigh track isn’t the first Olympic venue to fade away and crumble into disrepair after their respective games. Hosting an Olympics, whether it be the traditional summer time games, or their winter equivalent, is tricky business and in many cases has led to severe debt and new built facilities being left to rot once the games are over! Look at Montreal, Greece and China for example …
Montreal, Canada (1976) – still paying off their Olympic debt 30 years later.
Athens, Greece (2004) – went billions over budget with plenty of now abandoned sites.
Beijing, China (2008) – still paying for their games and with many of their Olympic sites abandoned.
Of course those three cities didn’t suffer a siege not 10 years after their games, but seemingly it is very difficult to manage an Olympic games successfully.
You have to wonder what might have become of Sarajevo 1984 Winter Olympics bobsleigh track and all the other Winter Olympic sites within Sarajevo had the former Yugoslavia not broken up and had war not ensued. Would the track for example still be in use? Well, it was used for World Cup competitions after the games and before the war, so there is every possibility. It’s also worth noting that Sarajevo still has two fully functioning ski resorts within a few KM of the city. Had the war never taken place, might Sarajevo be considered one of the front runners in European sporting venues? We’ll never know, but I do wonder as at one time everything was seemingly in place.
For sports fans I would highly recommend a hike/taxi up the mountain to the track, and even for those of you that aren’t sports driven, this track still holds evidence of a key period in Bosnia’s recent history, plus you get amazing views. I might suggest that you go with a guide if you get the chance, it may prove easier and you might learn a little more than I, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy my own experience of hiking of my own accord. Just remember to stick to the roads!!
Location and Price
The price is of course free to visit Sarajevo 1984 Winter Olympics bobsleigh track, unless you take a tour or taxi which will obviously need paying for.
Location and direction wise, try use this …
I was a guest of the Franz Ferdinand hostel in Sarajevo for a total of 3 nights. That said you should know that I did not pitch this idea to them, they offered me a free stay and asked for nothing in return. I link them because I actually do highly recommend them, the hostel was great. Also, truth be told I was going to stay with them anyway had they offered me a complimentary stay or not, having been recommended by a blogging friend who’s a keen traveler in the Balkans.