January 17, 2018 / 11:36 AM / 9 months ago

Olympics-Ruined and neglected, Sarajevo tracks still hold hope for some

SARAJEVO, Jan 17 (Reuters) - Once a pride of Olympic Sarajevo and known as the steepest and fastest in the world, the bobsleigh track on Mount Trebevic is now dilapidated and abandoned, a shadow of its former glory.

As with other sport facilities built for the Sarajevo 1984 Winter Olympics but then ruined during the Bosnian war in the 1990s, the current poor condition of the track is a result of neglect, political interference and incompetence, experts say.

Some young Bosnians cannot even imagine that a concrete monster meandering through the woods above the Bosnian capital, covered with graffiti, was once buzzing with international competitors and visitors from across the world.

"I don't know much about the Olympics but for me it is inconceivable they were held here," said high school student Lejla Hodzic, taking a stroll by the track with her girlfriends on a recent January afternoon.

War destruction, the administration divided along ethnic lines and transition from one political system to another have all contributed to the slow pace of recovery of once popular winter sports and arenas.

For example, during and after the Sarajevo games, all Olympic facilities located within a 22-kilometre radius were owned and run by a Sarajevo-based roof organisation.

But after the war, the municipalities have taken over the facilities, such as ski tracks, and leased them to regional companies operating separately from each other.

"The Olympic facilities are in a sad condition today because of neglect and public attempts to undermine their importance and value," said Slavko Malec, a former senior official in the Organising Committee of the 1984 Games.

Due to a lack of political consensus between different governments in Bosnia, Sarajevo had to cancel the organisation in 2017 of one of the biggest sporting events after the Olympics, the European Youth Olympics Festival, and postpone it for 2019.

The preparations for the EYOF 2019 could only kick off after the two cities, Sarajevo and East Sarajevo, which were carved out of the Serb-held parts of the capital after the 1992-95 war, had agreed to invest their assets and work together.

HOPE FOR RENOVATED BOBSLEIGH TRACK

While the Zetra Olympic Hall in Sarajevo and ski tracks on nearby mountains have been reconstructed and modernised, the Trebevic bobsleigh track, as well as ski jumps and cross-country tracks on the Mountain Igman remain in a state of disrepair.

Authorities say their reconstruction would be too expensive and unsustainable.

But Senad Omanovic, president of Bosnia's bobsleigh association and the former Yugoslavia's two-time champion, believes that a renovated track could be profitable with international teams coming to train there.

"This track has a great potential," said Omanovic, who had convinced other sport enthusiasts to join him to clean part of the track to enable juniors from his bobsleigh team to use it for training on the luges on wheels during the warm season.

They begun training in 2014 and teams from other European countries, such as Slovakia, Turkey, Poland and Slovenia have also been training on the Trebevic track ahead of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang which begin next month.

While Omanovic is optimistic that the track may be opened for practice again, Hana Bajric, 18, finds such hopes unrealistic: "I don't believe it will ever be reconstructed. There are more urgent things to repair in this country." (Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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