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The Remarkable Journey of the Winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo

The Remarkable Journey of the Winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo

On the 8th of February 1984 at the "Koševo" stadium in Sarajevo, fanfare marked the beginning of the opening ceremony of one of the most important and largest sporting events in the world.

Hello, I’m David and I write about my life and adventures in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Subscribe for free to enjoy occasional posts, podcasts and vlogs from this much misunderstood heart shaped country in the western Balkans.


The National Anthem of the Socialist Federated Republic of Yugoslavia - “Hej Slaveni”

The Olympic Games in Sarajevo in February 1984, brought together 1,272 athletes from 49 countries as well as the most eminent figures from the world's sporting, cultural, and socio-political life in one place.

The 14th Winter Olympic Games were held in Sarajevo from February 8-19, 1984, and marked a significant milestone in the history of the city and the entire country of what was then The Socialist Federated Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY).

What started as a dream eventually became a reality through determination, hard work, and unwavering enthusiasm.

The story of the Sarajevo Winter Olympics began some 20 years before in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when discussions about the development of skiing and winter tourism in the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (one of the 6 republics that made up Yugoslavia) took place.

It was during these conversations that the potential of Sarajevo to host the Games was recognised.

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However, the road to candidacy was not going to be without its challenges.

A significant turning point came in April 1971 when the first analyses of the social justification and possibilities for organising the Winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo were completed.

Despite not being officially presented to the public at that time, it laid the foundation for creating an atmosphere of trust and motivation to move forward with the ambitious goal of hosting the Games.

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The journey to secure the Games continued with the formation of a Preparatory Committee, committed to showcasing the potential of Sarajevo as a host.

With the support and consent of various authorities, including the Federal Executive Council, the candidacy was officially announced to the public on October 14, 1977.

The road to securing the Winter Olympics for Sarajevo was not easy. Several other countries, including France, Japan, Sweden, and Czechoslovakia, also vied for the opportunity to host the "White Olympiad." Many believed that Sarajevo and Yugoslavia had little chance of success. However, the creators of the Olympic project remained undeterred. Their belief in their vision led them to continue working tirelessly towards their goal.

Finally, on January 3, 1978, the candidacy of Sarajevo arrived at the International Olympic Committee office in Lausanne. Months of inspections and evaluations followed, with international experts assessing the city's capabilities and evaluating the promises made.

The choice of Sarajevo to host the XIV Olympic Games was announced on May 18th the following year, during the 80th session of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Athens. The city's opponents were the Japanese city of Sapporo and the Swedish city of Gothenburg.

After two rounds of voting, Sarajevo won the organisation by the majority of votes.


With the honour of hosting the Games, Sarajevo became a bustling construction site.

Over the years leading up to the event, magnificent sporting facilities sprung up: the "Zetra" complex, bobsleigh and sledding tracks, ski jumps, halls, "white tracks," cable cars, hotels, the Olympic Village, and a journalist's village with 2,640 apartments, as well as roads in the direction of the mountains, and 28 winter sports centres in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“Zetra” subsequently the The Juan Antonio Samaranch Olympic Hall

The completion of these facilities, coupled with the organisational structures put in place, ensured that Sarajevo was ready to welcome the world on February 8, 1984.

The total cost was 141,647,000 dollars, and were completed with a surplus of 12,000,000 dollars.

It was the first Olympic Games to end with a surplus. All the previous ones had debts in their wake, and many host cities and countries had difficulty covering the costs.

10,450 volunteers, with the participation of thousands and thousands of “pioneers” were involved in the preparation of the Games.


February 8th 1984 at precisely 2:30 p.m, fanfare marked the beginning of the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games.

On behalf of the organisers, the president of the Organising Committee, Branko Mikulić, greeted the guests, and the president of the IOC, Juan Antonio Samaranch, with the best wishes of the world Olympic family, announcing that the planet "will witness the great Games in Sarajevo and that they will be the best-organised Games in history."

The Olympic flame was turned into a big blaze by skater Sanda Dubravčić, and the Olympic oath was taken on behalf of all the participants by the ace of the white tracks, Bojan Križaj, who forgot the words of the Olympic oath, but which the spectators supported with great applause.

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Yugoslavia, became, for a short while, the centre of the world.

The Sarajevo Games were the first where there were no North Atlantic or Warsaw Pact boycotts. 49 national associations took part, 222 medals were distributed, 2,691 athletes and coaches participated, 640,000 tickets were sold, and 7,825 journalists and 760 newsrooms followed them.

All this was watched by about two and a half billion viewers across the world.

The competitions showcased remarkable performances by athletes such as Jure Franko, who won a silver medal in the giant slalom, becoming the first Yugoslavian to achieve such a feat at the Winter Olympics.

Jure Franko

The most successful countries were East Germany (nine gold, nine silver, and six bronze medals) and the USSR (six gold, 10 silver, and nine bronze medals).

Great Britain’s Torvill and Dean's Olympic full routine in Sarajevo on Valentine's day '84 ⬇️

In 2014, Torvill and Dean returned to Sarajevo to dance the Bolero one more time, celebrating the 30-year anniversary of their Olympics performance. Invited by the mayor of Sarajevo ahead of the Youth Olympic Games in 2017, the event helped raise funds for a permanent ice rink and reminded the world of their efforts to bring back the Olympics to Sarajevo.

The SFRY team had 72 members.

The story of the 1984 Winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo is one of determination, hard work, and triumph against all odds. From a dream and initial doubts to the successful organisation of the Games and the lasting legacy it left behind, Sarajevo proved that with passion and dedication, anything is possible. The city and its people will forever be remembered for hosting one of the best-organised Winter Olympics in history.

About 640 thousand visitors were recorded, and about 328 thousand overnight stays.

Yugoslav TV Jingles from February 1984 ⬇️

The mascot of Games was Vučko (Wolf), and even today, four decades later, his character evokes the best memories.

The legacy of the Games extended beyond individual triumphs, as it provided an opportunity for the development of winter sports in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Juan Antonio Samaranch speech at the Closing Ceremony of Olympic Winter Games in Sarajevo 1984.

And Finally ⬇️

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Coffee and Rakija
🎙️ An Englishman in the Balkans 🎧
In this podcast, you'll get a unique look at my life in Bosnia and Herzegovina, through the eyes of an immigrant. Each episode, I share my experiences living in this often misunderstood country, and introduce you to some of the interesting people I have met along the way.
From exploring the rich culture and history, to discussing the challenges and joys of immigrating to a new country, this podcast offers a thoughtful and engaging look at life in the Balkans.