Peaceful Sarajevo just a memory

February 07, 1994|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Writer

LILLEHAMMER, NORWAY — Lillehammer, Norway--Scott Hamilton remembers the smell of cigarettes and fresh paint, the disco at the Holiday Inn and the smog that hung over the ancient city like a blanket.

And the snow.

Goodness, who could forget the snow?

First, there wasn't enough. And then, there was too much. And finally, the skies cleared, and Hamilton, the gold medalist in men's figure skating, walked around the cobblestoned streets of Sarajevo.

"You realized this was one of the most beautiful places you had ever seen," he said. "The people there put their hearts and souls into those Games."

Now, Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, is a city under siege, the Winter Olympics of 1984 nothing more than a distant memory.

Could it be? Ten years?

Torvill and Dean sealing a gold with a kiss.

The skiing Mahre brothers sharing a victory podium.

Bill Johnson careening downhill and into history.

The first Olympics held in a communist country had somehow turned beautiful. There were brownouts in the rest of Yugoslavia, but Sarajevo was illuminated and alive.

Soldiers patrolled the streets the first few days, armed and ready. By the second week, they had flowers in their rifles.

Now, there is an ever-present rumble of artillery in Sarajevo.

The Olympic venues are destroyed. Another winter of war rolls on.

"You look at the pictures of the place now, and it's like this faceless void," Hamilton said. "Here, in one place, you experienced one of the greatest times of your life, and you see what it turned into.

"You don't know why you feel so bad. But you do."

The Zetra ice rink was a second home to Hamilton. He was there over Thanksgiving in 1983, skating in a pre-Olympic competition, sharing a turkey meal with a family he had never met before.

"The Zetra was so new then," he said. "Fresh paint. Big rooms. Empty rooms. You think back on that, and then, to realize that the Zetra was bombed out, that it was used as a morgue."

Skier Christin Cooper can't shake the memory of Sarajevo, either. "It feels like a big black hole," she said.

She remembers the cab drivers who would take detours -- but no tips -- just because they wanted to show off the mosques, the bridge where an archduke was shot and World War I was ignited, the simple greatness of a city.

She remembers the sweaters and silver and food laid out on tables in the old town markets.

"Flags were flying," she said. "People were happy. They were so proud. And now . . .

"To see the contrast is really disillusioning. Violence is no answer. That is what hurts the most. Ten years ago, we were at the Olympics on a mission of peace, and this happens."

Cooper has tried to do something, anything, for Sarajevo. With sportscaster Greg Lewis, she co-founded "The Spirit of HOPE Humanitarian Olympians for Peace."

All they have now is a list of Olympians, some money in the bank and a goal of somehow making a difference in Sarajevo.

Maybe when the siege ends, they can go to Sarajevo with some sporting equipment. It is such a small gesture, they know. But they want to make a difference.

"As a group, we can at least go in and build a gymnasium for the kids," she said. "Is that too much to ask? But we can't do anything until they stop killing each other."

Skater Katarina Witt also is prepared to make a symbolic stand against the killing.

Ten years ago, she won the first of her two Olympic gold medals in Sarajevo. Now, she returns to the Olympics in Lillehammer. She will skate her long program dressed in a blood-red outfit to the music of "Where Have All the Flowers Gone."

"It is for peace," Witt said.

There is a story that Cooper keeps coming back to that tells the sweetness that was Sarajevo in winter 1984.

The U.S. women's ski team rented a house in Pale at the top of the giant slalom course. After the first run, Cooper was first and her teammate Debbie Armstrong was fifth, and together they went to the house.

There, the Sarajlic family, prominent Muslims, greeted the skiers with plates of pastry and baked apples.

"That family wanted us to be strong for the second run," Cooper said. "Our stomachs were turning inside-out. I decided to have a bite of the apple. Debbie didn't. She ended up winning the race, and I was second."

Cooper and the others who skied in Sarajevo have tried to find the Sarajlic family without success.

L "You have no idea whether they are dead or alive," she said.

"I'll never forget that family," she said. "And I'll never forget the apple."

Tomorrow: Freestyle skiers Trace Worthington and Donna Weinbrecht are a couple of American stars with different outlooks for the Games.

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