Sarajevo's Weird, Wonderful Abandoned Olympic Bobsleigh Run
I risked my neck to give you a look at this fantastic area, in both pictures and video.
Brent and I are currently living in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. And in the mountains just above the city, we recently explored the ruins of the luge and bobsleigh tracks from the 1984 Winter Olympics.
Are these “ruins” exactly? After all, the structures are only forty years old, built when Bosnia and Herzegovina was part of the country known as Yugoslavia.
The Sarajevo Olympics were the first winter games held in a Slavic-speaking country (and the second Olympics of any kind held in such a country), and they marked a high point for this turbulent region of the world, which, despite being associated with the USSR, was also trying to open up relations with the west.
The ‘84 Olympic Games were considered a big success, and Sarajevans had good reason to think better times lay ahead.
Unfortunately, the area soon collapsed into a series of wars, from 1992 until 2001. This included the Siege of Sarajevo, from 1992 to 1995 — the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare.
Much of Sarajevo was destroyed in the siege, including the Zetra Olympic Hall and the Winter Olympic Sports Complex.
The luge and bobsleigh runs — yes, that’s “bobsleigh,” not “bobsled” — were mostly forgotten.
Now they really do seem like ruins — and they’re some of the most interesting we’ve ever seen.
The ruins include the bobsleigh track, which was 1,300 m (4,300 ft) long, with thirteen turns, and both a men’s and women’s luge track.
Over the past thirty years, nature has definitely taken its toll.
But humans have had a big impact too.
In fact, during the Siege of Sarajevo, Bosnian Serbs used the runs for sniper nests and to lob shells onto the city down below. Bullet holes still pockmark some of the concrete as defenders in Sarajevo fought back.
Since the end of the war, graffiti artists have made their presence known as well. I’m on record as not normally being a fan of graffiti, but they’ve made this area look absolutely spectacular, transforming it into a kind of outdoor art gallery.
The entire setting is a strange confluence of art, nature, and old ruins.
Between the trees and the crumbling concrete, the past and the present converge, and it’s hard not to let your imagination run as wild as an out-of-control bobsleigh.
Mountain bikers now use portions of the tracks, and sometimes even bobsleigh and luge athletes still practice here.
Given the condition of most of the tracks, the aforementioned activities seem to me like a great way to break your neck.
There is talk of renovating both the bobsleigh and luge runs, once considered the fastest and steepest in the world, so they can once again be used in international competitions.
Part of me hopes this doesn’t happen. The world already includes plenty of bobsleigh and luge runs, but I’ve never seen anything quite as magical and haunting as this place the way it is right now.
By the way, if you’re curious what it might be like to rocket down a bobsleigh run, I risked breaking my own neck to give you a video glimpse of exactly that!
The easiest way is to take the Sarajevo Cable Car up Trebević Mountain, located on the southern side of the city, almost directly across from Sarajevo City Hall on the opposite side of the Miljacka River. The cars run from 9 AM to 9 PM, and a round trip ticket is 20 KM/$10 USD, and one way is 15 KM. (Locals pay a discounted fee.)
Once at the top, signs direct you to the bobsleigh tracks, and if you follow them far enough down the mountain, it probably just makes sense to hike back into town.
It’s also possible to hike to the top of the mountain, which takes about two hours.
Michael Jensen is a novelist and editor. For more about Michael, visit him at MichaelJensen.com.
Thanks so much, William! Appreciate the kind words and glad you enjoyed the memories. However the Sarajevo Games were not thirty eight years ago. Nope. No way. Not possible. Nope, nope, nope! 😎😎😎
First, let me say that I enjoyed listening to you read your newsletter as I followed along on the page. I feel like I know both of you a little bit, and I know that is so presumptuous of me because we have never met. But, this newsletter is what allows me to feel like you are friends. :)
I had tears in my eyes as I look at the pictures; the Sarajevo games hold my fondest memories of Olympic Winter Games, and seeing these pictures are just sad. I don't know that I'm to the point yet that I can see this as "art" and that it needs to be left alone, but I do appreciate your point of view. I grew up in Southern California and lived there off and on for the majority of my life, and "graffiti" littered everything. It's hard to look at any graffiti and see the benefit of it, but I'll try.
Thanks for this walk down memory lane, sad as it is.