The XIV Winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo

The story of the Olympic Games in Sarajevo starts back on May 18, 1978 in Athens, where the International Olympic Committee (IOC) entrusted Sarajevo with the organization of the XIV Winter Olympic Games (WOG), having won out over contesting cities, Sapporo and Gothenburg.

While there were rumors that the IOC’s choice was politically motivated, Sarajevo made good use of the opportunity to organize the Games in order to improve its international image, which had been tarnished by a tragic incident – the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, the Austro-Hungarian heir to the throne, by Gavrilo Princip.

Modern European city

The Games also facilitated the city’s rapid development. Entire neighborhoods, such as Mojmilo and Dobrinja, began to spring up, new roads were constructed and existing ones repaired; various sports facilities were built (Koševo Stadium, Zetra Hall, ski centers, the bob sled tracks, etc.); buildings in the center of town were given new facades…. All in all, Sarajevo’s appearance was totally changed, and as days passed and the time for the Games drew near, it came to resemble a modern European city.

The XIV WOG got underway with the hockey match that was held on February 7, 1984 and the Games officially commenced  on February 8. The Olympic Oaths were taken by the skier Bojan Križaj, on behalf of all the athletes, and by Dragan Perović, on behalf of the judges. Sanda Dubravčić, one of the best skaters in Yugoslavia, had the honor of lighting the Olympic Torch at Koševo Stadium.

This stadium, which could hold a crowd of 45,000, proved too small to hold everyone who wanted to attend the opening of the Games, which are dedicated to sport, love and peace.

The mascot of the XIV WOG was Vučko, the brown wolf with a red scarf, which was designed by Jože Trobec and remains one of the most recognizable symbols of Sarajevo.

During the 12 days of the Olympics, there were 1,437 competitors from 49 countries, the highest number in the history of the Games up to that time.

It was Jure Franko, the alpine skier from Slovenia, who delighted the Olympic hosts by winning a silver medal in the giant slalom. This was the first medal won by Yugoslavia at the Winter Olympics. Sarajevans cheered on Franko by making banners which said: “We love Jurek more than burek!”

The real stars of the Sarajevo Games were the figure skating contestants – the British couple, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, who won the gold medal by receiving the maximum number of points. The East German figure skater, Katarina Witt, won a gold medal and it was her performance at these Olympic Games which turned her into one of the world’s greatest sports icons.

Gold medal for citizens of Sarajevo

This golden age in Sarajevo was probably defined by its people, who were trying to be at their best.

Foreign journalists went out onto the streets in the early morningbof February 9 to document “the collapse” of the Games, but to their great amazement, there was no snow, even though a lot had fallen just the night before. Without being asked to do so, young and old alike had cleared the snow from the streets. There were no fixed working times for shops, restaurants or banks; their workers simply worked as long as necessary. Should one happen to lose something, it was sure to be returned.

Those who came to watch the Games without reserving a room in advance would have found themselves without accommodation, but they were simply taken to someone’s home, where they were usually treated as guests.

After the Olympics, one foreign journalist wrote the following:

“A gold medal should be given to all of the citizens of Sarajevo.” 

Those who participated and those who watched still have fond memories of the XIV WOG, and even members of the IOC were impressed, proclaiming Sarajevo the most well-organized WOG held up to that time.