Advertisement

Sarajevo Rehearses For 1984 Olympics

By
MORLEY MYERS, UPI Sports Writer

SARAJEVO, Yugoslavia -- Sarajevo is steeling itself for this weekend's first major brush with what to expect when it becomes host to the 1984 Winter Olympic Games.

By Sunday, Sarajevo will be halfway through an international 10-event program to flex its Olympic muscles, and the town, nestling in the shadows of Mount Bjelasnica, is still counting the bruises from the early skirmishes.

Advertisement

The World Junior Figure Skating Championships staged at the newly-built 8,500-capacity Zetra Olympic Hall last December went without a hitch.

But last Thursday's scheduled men's downhill was delayed 24 hours and, although the international governing body for bobsled gave the green light for the holding of the European two-man and four-man championships, they have ordered some reconstruction on the Trebevic run before passing it fit for the Olympics.

Several bobs overturned during the two-man event last weekend, some of the curves were considered too dangerous and other alterations need to be carried out later this year.

This weekend brings two events into direct collision -- the women's World Cup downhill and giant slalom at Jahorina and the four-man bob event at Trebevic.

Officials are hoping the women's races will not cause the same headaches brought by last week's men's downhill. Even the weather conspired against the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina when the world's top men downhillers came to town to battle on the Bjelasnica slopes where the Olympic event will take place Feb. 9, 1984.

Advertisement

It soon became obvious Thursday's downhill was heading for trouble as high temperatures played havoc with the lightly-covered course, turning the snow into soft sludge in some parts.

Sunshine is fine for a vacation in Waikiki, but is an unwelcome guest when you want to run a ski race. The temperature was suitably low on the upper reaches of the mountain, but the lower slopes were bathed in warmth.

'There could be many problems next year if the weather is like this,' said Serge Lang, founder of the World Cup competition.

'The hill is something like a border -- continental climate above, but warm weather on the lower part. The snow conditions are good at the top but the finish is like water,' he added.

The law of gravity determines what goes up must come down and, as yet, there is no such ski event as an uphill race. Last Thursday therefore came and went with no racing, the jury deciding on a one-day postponement, with the Olympic organizing committee underwriting the $50,000 costs.

More than 250 soldiers and 100 helpers worked late through Thursday night and early Friday with artificial snow-making machines. They also took the opportunity of flattening some of the jumps which skiers had said were too dangerous.

Advertisement

Swiss overall World Cup leader Peter Mueller was injured in a spill during training Wednesday and World Cup downhill champion Steve Podborski of Canada described the last two jumps as 'like taking off in a plane with no landing strip.'

The race eventually went ahead Friday without any problem. While the skiers were fighting a difficult battle on the slopes, the meet organizers faced another headache at ground level -- accommodation and transportation.

The bob teams and their followers arrived for Saturday's two-man European championships, causing an overflow in the mix of skiers and back-up technicians. Thursday's charter flights, which had been scheduled to take the skiers, officials, technicians and media personnel to Lubiljana en route to Kranjska Gora for Saturday's giant slalom and Sunday's special slalom World Cup races, left almost empty.

After Friday's race and the scramble to make Kranjska Gora, Sarajevo Airport is still reeling from the shock waves of the jostling for places on two charters and one scheduled flight to Ljubljana -- an hour's drive from the venue. Skiers, justifiably, took precedence, and even racers who were not competing in Kranjska Gora but were flying home found a seat on one of the three flights.

Advertisement

But there was no place for Austrian Gerhard Pfaffenbichler, winner of Friday's downhill, who had to miss a planned celebration back home.

There was as much confusion at Kranjska Gora Airport after the third plane landed and it was announced most of the luggage had been left behind and would be arriving by truck Saturday.

Switzerland's Peter Luescher arrived without his racing suit and had to borrow one, many team officials were stranded without much-needed equipment and photographers were missing their portable darkroom equipment.

Fortunately, the two races went without a hitch, although conditions were so bad for Sunday's slalom that less than a third of the 70 starters completed the two runs. The world's two top slalom specialists, Swedish world and Olympic champion Ingemar Stenmark and American World Cup champion Phil Mahre, were among the illustrious caualties.

Meanwhile, back in Sarajevo, heavy snow had fallen and all Monday's flights from Ljubljana were canceled.

'I am afraid we have no control over the weather,' said Pavle Lukac, director of the Olympic Organizing Committee's press and public relations.

Hopefully, there will be fewer transportation problems next year. Sarajevo Airport is to be enlarged and will be able to receive eight planes an hour while winter maintenance equipment will be provided to combat snow and fog.

Advertisement

The number of trains will also be increased and roads have been widened.

Sarajevo Airport officials promise everything will run smoothly for the Olympics but obviously the scenes last week had a sobering effect.

'I have never seen anything like it before,' an official said. Asked why there had been no announcement in Sarajevo that luggage was being left behind, her reply was, 'We don't want a riot here. We have enough troubles.'

Latest Headlines