Nordic combined skier, development coach, national team coach, & Olympic coach
Just Another Day at the Olympics
The area around Mt. Igman, outside of Sarajevo, was the site of the 1984 Winter Olympic ski jump and cross-country skiing events. Unfortunately, a few years later in 1992 war broke out in between Bosnia and Herzegovina. Sarajevo and the Olympic facilities were heavily damaged in the war. They were also the site of wartime atrocities with Sarajevo being shelled from the top of Mt. Igman, the mountain behind the jump hill.
This story is related but less serious. I was a part of the coaching staff at the Sarajevo Olympics helping the Nordic combined and cross-country teams. It was an interesting time in Yugoslavia, just a short time before the war tore through the area and ended up with new geopolitical divisions. The stress in the country was already evident. All of the venues included heavy security with soldiers everywhere. On the cross-country trails, there were military police within view of each other all the way around the courses. At the jumps, there was a garrison of soldiers stationed near the base.
While I was not a part of the jumping staff, I spent a good deal of time on the jumps with the Nordic combined team. In addition, two members of the jumping team, Dennis McGrane and Landis Arnold came from my home program of Winter Park where I had learned to jump and also coached. Other members of the jumping team were Jeff Hastings, Reed Zuehlke, and Michael Holland.
Dennis was well known as a free spirit, from his backflip off the Dartmouth College graduation stage to many fun days on the jump hill. Indirectly, he is responsible for my ensuing problem. Dennis was, in addition to a fine ski jumper, also a very good snowboarder back in the early days of that sport. He had brought his board with him to Sarajevo and had made a number of runs in the deep powder on the ski hill rising behind the jumps. Dennis convinced me that it was the perfect location for me to learn to board.
On my own, I headed up the lift past the judge’s tower, past the exits for the two jumps to the top of Mt Igman which was buried in fog. After some time spent digging out of my crash getting off the lift I started down. Traverse, fall, get up, traverse, fall……. It took a long time to get part-way down and I never figured out how to make a turn.
After nearly two hours of struggle, I approached the bottom in heavy silent flakes of densely falling snow. Another big crash. I emerged from my up-side-down snow blanket to three white-clothed soldiers on skis with gun barrels pointing directly at me. One was speaking excitedly, the words unknown to me, but the message was clear. “Get up, come with us, you are in trouble.” I waded through the snow with my guard to their barracks and was loaded into a military truck. The soldiers did a quick, but very thorough search. My Olympic credential was taken, as were my wallet, hat, gloves, and Dennis’s snowboard.
The long ride into Sarajevo seemed endless in the back of the cold vehicle in wet clothing. I had a definite sense that not all was well in my world. When the truck stopped, I was taken into a multistory grey building where I was kept under guard on a bench for a very long time. Later I was taken down a long cell to a locked room (cell) with a bed and sink. I was surely doomed. I had many thoughts of what would happen, how would I let Kathy know that I was in a Yugoslavian prison. How would I contact anyone for help? It was a pretty cold and miserable time.
Several hours later the door opened and an English-speaking official entered the room with a member of the US Olympic delegation. I was released with a stern warning to stay away from closed areas. They returned Dennis’s snowboard, my wallet, and credentials. I never saw my USA Olympic hat and gloves again, but I’m sure they were treasured by some soldier and well deserved for putting up with the crazy American.
I have to finish this story by noting that the people of Sarajevo, and the staff of the Olympics, were wonderful, friendly, courteous, and very efficient. I had a great time except for a few brief hours spent in the cold grey building. It was a long time before I tried snowboarding again.