After two days of looking, I found the cross country ski venue from the 1984 Olympics. It was not easy, requiring at least a bronze to silver medal level effort in the detective work department.
A combination of no maps or signs, a big language barrier (almost no one I have encountered here speaks English or any other European language), and a local lack of interest in cross country skiing all conspired to keep the location top secret. Basically they could not have hidden it any better from visitors if they wanted to.
My quest began with asking various people in Sarajevo where the CROSS COUNTRY (emphasis added) ski venue was. Invariably they would hear the word “ski” and say “Jahorina”. That’s the downhill venue where I am staying. “No, no. The CROSS COUNTRY ski area.” “Jahorina.”
After running through that drill a few times, I asked people at Jahorina. They said “not here” but provided little additional info. One person said to go down the road and “go left”. Yesterday was the day I “went left”, but after following a winding road for about 20 miles down into Sarajevo (past the artillery sites I photographed), it was clear that wasn’t the right way.
Today I set off on another road heading for the men’s downhill ski venue, Bjelašnica. Surely someone in the lodge would know. Again the language bloc was almost total. I had to do some physical miming of what cross country skiing was, and still I had the feeling that they had no idea what I was talking about. A few people were consulted. But none of them knew. It later turned out that the cross country skiing venue was about three miles from the lodge.
I set off again in the car, continuing my circuit heading west through the mountains south of Sarajevo. I knew it had to be there. The lack of signage was frustrating. And then a completely unmarked but plowed road appeared on the left. Aha. I turned down it and found a small sign that had the Olympic symbol on it. Bingo.
Funny enough, when I pulled up to the youth hostel that is now the only building on the location, the person there did not know if this was the venue. She referred me to someone outside in the ski rental shack. Again no English. At this point I was reduced to just saying the word “Olympics” and pointing down to the ground. Here? Nothing. “Olympics. Olympics.” Nope. “Olimpija.” I improvised a Slavic accent. Aha. That got something. “Yes.” And she motioned down the road. “Not here?” Again, about a 20% level of confidence that a) she understood what I was asking and b) I understood what she answered.
I headed outside and started wandering around. There were groomed ski tracks, but nothing that looked like an Olympic venue. And no buildings or landscaping to indicate a stadium. Oh well, I guess I wasn’t going to get that big definitive YES THIS IS THE PLACE moment. And then out comes the groomer guy, dressed in a one piece insulated maintenance suit. He makes the motion for firing a gun and motions for me to follow him. Hmmm. Well, as we’re in Republika Srpska where Americans are not exactly beloved, this is either the answer to my questions or something worse.
But no, he means biathlon. We walk over to a flat open meadow, and through 100% physical gestures we confirm that YES THIS IS THE PLACE and that he was here for the Olympics. Thank god. At that point a guy from Sarajevo who is studying in Germany and does speak English was skiing by and we recruited him into the communication effort. And then all questions were answered.
Strange, that what could be a major tourist sport destination is so hard to find. Olympic venues in most countries are shrines to skiers. But the Sarajevo course has reverted to nature. The war is of course part of the answer.
And as I drove home, what should be next door but the ski jumping venue.
For anyone else about to embark on this pilgrimage, here is the key info you need to know. Cross country skiing took place at Igman, Veliko Polje and ski jumping took place at Igman, Malo Polje.
You should have no problem finding it. Really.