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Sochi's Future? See Sarajevo's Olympic Ruins 30 Years Later

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Images of run-down Olympics venues are so ubiquitous that they’ve become their own genre of “ruin porn.”

But no Olympic sites posses the tragic history of those built for the 1984 Winter Games in Sarajevo, the first Winter Olympics ever held in a communist country. Less than a decade after hosting the Games, the city was besieged by Bosnian Serb forces for three years at the height of the Bosnian War. An estimated 10,000 civilians died during the siege, and the venues of the Olympic park were transformed into scenes of heavy fighting.

Three decades later, Sarajevo is the capital of the independent country of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but the scars of the war remain.

The Games’ bobsled and luge course, located outside the city on Mount Trebevic, became an artillery site, from which Serb forces rained down shells on the city below. It has since been heavily vandalized.

The bobsled track from the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo
The bobsled track from the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo
The bobsled track from the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo

Mount Igman, the home of Olympic skiing events, was the site of a Bosnian Army stronghold during the siege. The medal podium, where Jens Weissflog was once awarded his first Olympic gold, was turned into a stage for executions. (It has since been restored; after the war it looked like this.)

The Olympic medal podium at Mount Igman near Sarajvo

The ski-jumping arena on Mount Igman also saw heavy combat, and was rendered unusable by the fighting. The slopes outside are still heavily mined.

The disused Igman Olympic Jumps in 2013
The disused Igman Olympic Jumps in Jan. 2014
The view from atop the disused Igman Olympic Jumps

Elsewhere on the mountain, a bombed-out house sits alone.
The ruin of a house outside Sarajevo

Sarajevo’s Zetra Hall, the site of the Games’ closing ceremonies, was destroyed by shells and its ruins used as a morgue. It has since been rebuilt.

The derelict site of Zetra Hall in October 2013
The logo of Sarajevo Winter Olympics on a tower near Zetra Hall

However, one remnant of the Games came out of the siege nearly intact: The Sarajevo ’84 pavement markings, still displaying their logo 30 years later.

The logo of the 1984 Winter Olympics on the streets in central Sarajevo in October 2013

Under the ruins, though, is room for optimism. As photographer Jon Pack, who has made a career of studying Olympic venues after the Games have finished, told Atlantic Cities, “The day I arrived [in Sarajevo], campers were having the time of their lives at the bottom of the hill. They were playing football and competing in a series of challenges they called ‘Games without Borders.'”

“I saw this again at our other stops in Sarajevo – Olympic sites, ravaged by war, being reclaimed and used by regular folks.”

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