Tuesday, February 16, 2010

1984 Sarajevo, Bosnia

1984 Sarajevo, Bosnia
The Olympics that captivated the world

The Bosnian capital of Sarajevo was virtually unknown on the global stage when the Winter Olympics landed in the Balkans for the first time. Organizers took full advantage of the opportunity, constructing state-of-the-art sports facilities in hopes of gaining international exposure for the socialist nation of Yugoslavia.

Unfortunately, the Olympics aren't what first spring to mind when people think of Sarajevo. The region captured headlines within a decade of the 1984 Games when it was a battleground in a brutal three-and-a-half-year conflict.

Along with many human casualties, the Olympic venues were heavily damaged, some reduced to rubble. Billboards depicting mascot Vucko the Wolf were riddled with bullet holes. The bobsleigh run was transformed into a Serb guerilla artillery position before becoming littered with landmines. Part of the men's skiing facility, Mt. Bjelasnica, became a Serb military installation.

While bombed-out buildings and shattered sports venues destroyed the infrastructural legacy of the Sarajevo Games, the soul of the 1984 Olympics was left untouched. The 1984 Games are remembered as a great athletic event that captivated the world

The Numbers
Number of nations:49
Number of competitors: 1,277 (277 women, 1,000 men)
New events: 1 (women's 20km cross-country skiing)
Love letters received by Katarina Witt after she won gold:35,000
Witt's nosiest admirer: East German dictator Erich Honecker, who ordered his secret police to log the duration of Witt's sexual encounters

Heaviest snowfall in a decade
The 1984 Games saw the continued growth of the Winter Olympic movement. The number of competing nations jumped from 37 in 1980 to 49 in 1984 when the International Olympic Committee, under president Juan Antonio Samaranch, agreed to pay for one male and one female athlete from each participating nation. The decision allowed balmy countries, like Mexico, Egypt and Senegal, to field their first Winter Olympians.

Organizers again fretted about a snow shortage in the weeks leading up to the Games. If they had prayed for snow their prayers were answered because as the athletes marched through Kosovo Stadium to open the Games, Sarajevo experienced its biggest snowfall in more than a decade.

It was a little too much of a good thing. There was so much snow it interfered with the alpine skiing schedule, with daily delays a normal occurrence. Organizers were forced to juggle the events over the two weeks, eventually combining two days of slalom into one to make room for the men's and women's downhill.

Skiing had its own controversy in the months leading up to Sarajevo. Several top money-winners and former Olympic champions like Sweden's Ingemar Stenmark and Liechtenstein's Hanni Wenzel - each of whom won two gold medals in 1980 - were excluded from the Games because they IOC felt they earned too much money to be considered amateurs. The IOC revoked what it called their B-licence, clearing a path for some new names atop the Olympic podium.

The Americans became the big alpine skiing story once the events received the green light. A cocky Bill Johnson surprised favoured Swiss and Austrian athletes to conquer Mt. Bjelasnica and become the first North American to win the Olympic men's downhill.

In Stenmark's absence, twins Phil and Steve Mahre won gold and silver, respectively, in the men's slalom. The U.S. also went one-two in the women's slalom, thanks to Debbie Armstrong and Christin Cooper.

In the men's giant slalom a Yugoslav national hero was born when hometown favourite Jure Franko captured silver. It was the first Winter Olympics medal for Yugoslavia and the only medal won by the host country at the Games.

Golden performances
Finland's Marja-Liisa Hamalainen was the top individual medal-winner at the 1984 Olympics. The physiotherapist from Simpere won all three women's cross-country skiing events and added a bronze in the 4x5km relay.

East German speed skaters hauled in multiple medals at the speed skating oval, led by Karin Enke (two gold and two silver medals), Andrea Schone (one gold, two silvers) and a gold by Christa Rothenburger.

The Soviet Union rebounded from its "Miracle on Ice" loss in Lake Placid four years earlier to dominate the 1984 Olympic hockey tournament. Legendary goalie Vladislav Tretiak led the team, as did the first wave of future Soviet NHLers -- Vyacheslav Fetisov, Vladimir Krutov, Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov. The USSR went a perfect 7-0 in the tournament. Like the Canadians half a century earlier, the Soviets dominated the 1984 hockey tournament, scoring 48 goals and allowed only five.

British ice dancers Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean gained international fame for their interpretation of Ravel's "Bolero." Torvill and Dean earned the first perfect 6.0 marks in Olympic ice dancing history on the way to winning gold.

After placing only fourth at the 1983 world figure skating championships, Katarina Witt of East Germany arrived in Sarajevo somewhat under the radar. But her surprise gold-medal victory over Rosalynn Sumners of the U.S. vaulted the sensuous Witt into her place as the most exciting skating star of the 1980s.

After capturing the public's imagination in Sarajevo, Witt dominated figure skating for the rest of the decade, winning four world championships and a second Olympic gold in 1988. She turned professional following the Calgary Games, but made an Olympic comeback in 1994. Though overmatched by the athletic young leapers who had taken control of women's figure skating, Witt charmed the crowd in Lillehammer with a beautiful free skate that paid tribute to war-torn Sarajevo, site of her first Olympic triumph. She placed seventh.

Witt's athletic accomplishments and sex appeal made her wildly popular in both the East and the West. Dubbed "the beautiful face of socialism," she remained something of a cultural phenomenon well after the fall of the Iron Curtain, making guest appearances on several American sitcoms and appearing alongside Robert DeNiro in the 1998 film Ronin. Witt also created a stir by posing nude for the December 1998 issue of Playboy. The edition remains one of the magazine's all-time best sellers.

Venues crumble in war
Many of the facilities built for the Sarajevo Games were damaged or destroyed outright in the fighting that lasted from 1992 to 1995 following the recognition of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a sovereign state.

The Zetra Olympic Hall, the hockey and ice skating venue that provided the backdrop for Torville and Dean, Katarina Witt and Brian Orser, burned to the ground after sustaining a direct missile hit during the Bosnian conflict. The only venue not affected by the fighting was the Bosnian Serb-controlled Jahorina, home to the women's skiing events.

After years of fighting and bloodshed, however, Bosnia appears to have turned a corner. Sarajevo is rebuilding and the 1984 Olympic venues are no exception. In May 1999, a rebuilt, state-of-the-art Zetra Olympic Hall opened in Sarajevo. The project, spearheaded by the IOC, created such optimism that the Bosnia-Herzegovina Olympic Committee prepared a bid for the 2010 Winter Games, which were awarded to Vancouver.
Country Gold Silver Bronze Total
1. Soviet Union 6 10 9 25
2. East Germany 9 9 6 24
3. Finland 4 3 6 13
4. Norway 3 2 4 9
5. USA 4 4 0 8
6. Sweden 4 2 2 8
8. Canada 2 1 1 4



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