While the Olympic world has been hurtling towards London 2012, I hunted down what is left of the “Friendly Games”, Sarajevo 1984.

The Winter Olympics of almost 30 years ago was a proud, shining moment for Yugoslavia before 1992-95 war ripped the place and people apart.

The Olympic venues in what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina are not just white elephants, they are either sad ruins or they have been obliterated.

My friend Sharon and I had a car, what we thought were reasonably good maps and a general plan to plant ourselves on the Olympic mountains of Sarajevo.

They are giant, nearby mounds of rock. What could go wrong?

Challenge one was tracking down the ruins of the Olympic bobsleigh and luge venue at Trebević. The Sarajevo vantage point was used by Bosnian Serb forces during three year long siege.

The Olympic ruins aren’t marked on our maps and internet references were too vague. Still, Trebević beckoned and we were brimming with mild confidence after spotting a brown touristy road sign with Olympic rings pointing in the direction we suspected.

I say mild because we’d already been tooting around Bosnia and Herzegovina for almost a week and had accepted that road signs were not the country’s best feature.

Seven kilometres down the windy, partially washed out road later and we spy an outcrop of graffiti hit concrete on the left hand side of the road. There’s an otherwise unmarked side road here, and on this day, there is a volunteer work crew in hi-vis wear sweeping and cleaning away years of refuse.

On both sides of the road there are remnants of carparks and on the right, through the trees, more raised, shattered concrete.

We say hello to the work crew. They are friendly and curious about our interest in the wrecked area. They have a medical/safety officer and small ambulance on standby. The area still has land-mines and we are reminded not to stray from the main path.

There’s also a TV news crew here too filming for that night’s bulletin. Not wanting feeling like stars of the show we launch ourselves down the smaller road and imagine we are a stone’s throw away from being blown up.

After walking through a forest for about a kilometre we sight this view of what is left of the Olympic track.

The concrete is vandalised by war and graffiti, while old insulating foam has hardened in the elements and is gathering moss.

A local hiker with a leaf guarding his nose from sunburn warns us again about land-mines before wandering off.

Sharon and I climbed into the concrete tube to inspect the local artistry and see how far it would take us.

The bobsleigh track swerves through the forest with the luge track occasionally linking up. Several bends had us high up over the yet to be cleared forest. Our concrete tube road had no land-mines. Just paint and pine needles.

But for all the warnings about the dangerous refuse of war, there were local families picnicking in the forest. I guess this is one of those don’t try this at home things.

Here’s one nonchalant family BBQ seen through a punched out wartime hole in the Olympic track.

These vantage points were all along the track. Each one had its exposed metal deliberately bent to make the hole wider.

A zombie apocalypse is begging to be filmed at this abandoned iconic site. Or just any sort of apocalypse film. It is a film set waiting for the cameras and a shouty director.

Shirtless middle aged men emerged from the forest with big hiking sticks. Apparently the climb from the city takes just 30 minutes and is perfectly safe if you stick to the worn path.

Of course I had to try out what is left of the Olympic course. I can confirm I no idea what I was doing, but a helmet would have looked better than my scarf in this photo.

Alleged bobsledding aside, there is so much more to see..

There is no signage, but this stunning, and of course strategic, view of Sarajevo can be found a little further up the Trebevič hillside.

This platform, attached to a dilapidated stone and concrete building, is what is left of a cable car. There are plans to put a new cable car in very soon.

The next day Sharon and I decided to zoom out to one of the other Olympic mountains for challenge number two.

It was to be either Bjelašnica or Igman. They didn’t look that far on the map and we had the whole day.

Bjelašnica is now the site of a modern ski resort so we went for Igman. Well that was the idea.

The brown Olympic ringed tourist signs petered out at some point on the main road out of town. One erroneous turn to the left and we ended up in a tight cornered residential area with locals bemused by our presence. Another turn towards the mountain lead to a promising road which quickly turned into some sort of goat trail.

After a general trip through “the side of a city you don’t normally see” we found yet another sign for the Olympic mountains.

Suddenly we were rising rapidly on a road sign-posted with a series of land-mine warning signs. The outside temperature dropped around ten degrees and we drove swiftly past the snow-less runs of Bjelašnica.

We almost missed Igman. The wooden sign is small and the entrance is choked with trees, but as we rounded a corner and cruised past a few random picnickers the area opened up.

There before us were the incredible ski jumps of the Sarajevo 1984 Olympic Games in all their almost vertical glory. Maintenance work on the venue so far seems to be minimal. It is manned in summer by a few people and a lawnmower by the looks of it.

There was a modern ski lift lying idle on the day we arrived.

1984 Olympic snowflake logos have been repainted on Igman’s buildings and a couple of flags are flying over the venue, but the best relic of the friendly games is the dais at the bottom of the mountainside.

It is not often you can stand on a real life winner’s circle and claim, in my case, imaginary gold.

Here is the very dated and extremely bright Olympic dais at Igman.

Photos of this concrete artefact just a few years ago show it disturbingly pockmarked with bullet holes.

The paint job is new and the rings are are larger than the ones that were slowly falling off it.

Here is the enormous Olympic ski jump with tiny little people on it.

The precarious looking stairs on either side challenged us to climb them so of course we had to do it.

The stairs were crumbly concrete and riddled with weeds, but looked doable on the way up.

This building half-way up the hillside has all of it’s windows broken and has been painted with giant “UN” letters on at least two sides.

This place was the scene of heavy fighting during the war.

This is about as high as I got as there was no clear path and I was steering clear of the concrete.

Igman’s normal hill is apparently 90 metres high and the large hill is 112 metres high. It all looks high when it is a virtual cliff face.

The prize was this makeshift set of Olympic rings at the bottom of a run. I think they are made of garden hose.

It was then time to head back down. At this point I realised exactly where I was on the planet.

I looked down at my feet and took each step one at a time..

.. all those narrow..

..crumbling..

.. concrete steps..

These wrecked venues won’t be a must do Sarajevo sight for very much longer.

Igman will soon be completely rebuilt and and resold to tourists and locals as a great new ski destination. Millions of dollars have already been poured into the project.

Trebević is being cleared too and it won’t be long before these broken Olympic artefacts and disturbing reminders of the Sarajevo seige are gone.

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8 Comments

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  1. Richard Carroll #
    July 21, 2012

    Great story Karen.Thanks.

  2. paddybts #
    July 21, 2012

    The descriptions and photos are both lovely and deeply moving.
    Thanks Karen

  3. Sally #
    July 21, 2012

    Thanks Karen – that was really interesting.

  4. Tont Belgrave #
    July 21, 2012

    Really enjoy your posts and this is enlightening.

    You have done a terrific job on your holiday.

  5. July 21, 2012

    Great to read! Thanks for sharing. :)

  6. keith forbes @fork12 #
    July 27, 2012

    karen,

    Great update with an interesting angle as ever. I often wondered about the remnants of the “friendly games” so thanks for the insight.During the conflict it always seemed incongruous to me that a city and country that had been so visible globally and on the surface at least so united during the games, could descend into such tragedy. I know there are centuries of disputes and grudges between the various ethnic factions and a few skiers and ice skaters are unlikely to alter much of that but you don’t tend to associate “Olympic cities” with such devastating unrest.
    Nice improvisation with the scarf by the way – at least it saved you from helmet hair.

  7. Jason #
    August 16, 2012

    Hi Karen,

    Great post, great photos! I have been looking back at the Olympic games in sarajevo and wondered what happened to these venues. Very interesting.. I didn’t realise land mines still exist there and family picnic on the site.Thanks for sharing your experience.

  8. September 10, 2012

    Wow, what spectacular sights. Thank you for sharing them!

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