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Sites from the1984 Winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo now desolate wasteland.
Sites from the1984 Winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo have now been reduced to desolate wasteland.

Thirty years ago, the 14th Winter Olympic Games was held in Sarajevo, then part of the former Yugoslavia. Now the remnants of those historic games lay in ruins and the arenas that once stood proud have been reduced to scarred fissures in the landscape.

Many of the famous venues lay overgrown with vegetation and show telling signs of the Bosnian war, which tore through the country in the early 1990s. Stadiums are riddled with bullet holes and graffiti runs the length of the bobsleigh track, the same track which saw Yugoslavia enter a bobsleigh team for the very first time.

Sarajevo's abandoned bob sleigh track, built and used as an Olympic venue during the 1984 Winter Olympic Games. Photo: Getty Images

The 84' Games was the first and last in the country's history. The Bosnians had won the Olympic bid only seven years earlier, beating the Japanese city of Sapporo by only three votes in the final ballot count.

The Games themselves were simple and on a human scale. By today's standard, the budget for the games was modest, somewhere between $150 and $160 million was set aside for the entire games, roughly $340 million in today’s terms.

In comparison, the Bird’s Nest Stadium built for the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing, China cost $480 million alone.

But at the time it was the most expensive project ever under taken in Yugoslavia. Prior to the Games, Sarajevo was a city transformed. The flagship Kosovo stadium built a short distance from the historic centre was the jewel in the crown of the city's historic landscape.

More than 40,000 people packed into the Kosovo stadium for the opening ceremony, where many of the 1200 athletes from 49 nations trooped into the arena waving flags. One memorable glitch for those witnessing the opening was when the Olympic flag was raised and fluttered upside before being corrected.

The collapsed roof of the Olympic sports hall 'Skenderija' in Sarajevo. Photo: Getty Images

The brutalist Zetra Ice Rink that would play host to some of the most memorable moments of the Winter Games sat proud, whilst other venues were built up high in the mountains of Mount Trebević, purposely built for the bobsled and skiing events. Not only did they give breathtaking views of the city below but they were also at the cutting edge of sport facilities anywhere in the world.

Described by journalists and commentators at the time as a 'party town', Sarajevo was filled with people. Yugoslavia won its first ever Winter Olympic medal at the games when Jure Franko from Slovenia won the silver medal in the giant slalom.

The biggest story of the Games unfolded at the Zetra Ice Arena and featured two British ice skaters. Jane Torville and Christopher Dean had arrived in Sarajevo and were tipped to win the gold. On Valentine Day 1984, the pair took to the ice with the Bolero for the free dance competition. They won gold and it became one of the most watched sporting events in British history with 24 million UK viewers tuning in see their pair pick up gold medals.

Olympic sports hall 'Skenderija' in Sarajevo. Photo: Getty Images

But with the onset of the Bosnian War, many of these site became wastelands. The Olympic facilities, which were once a symbol for peace, became military strongholds and in some cases morgues for the 5000 civilians thought to have been killed in the conflict.

Sarajevo's abandoned bob sleigh track was heavily damaged during Bosnia's 1992-95 war. It was never rebuilt and its large concrete fragments remain standing as a memento of past and training ground for young generations of graffiti artists. Photo: Getty Images

Bombardment artillery and rockets were fired from the mountains into the city. The Bosnian Serb forces took hold of downtown Sarajevo near the famous Holiday Inn where the journalists covering the 84’ Games stayed.

The venues assumed an increasingly grim role. Transformed into graveyards, the main Olympic Stadium became a haunting place. The Zetra Ice Rink was burnt to the ground. The Holiday Inn was repeatedly bombed, the ski area near Pale was stacked full of artillery and make shift rocket launchers were to be used on the city below.

The remnants of the venues still stand as a reminder of that horrific war and act as monument to the dead, many of which still have not been recovered.

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