Sarajevo's Enduring Olympic Spirit

Members of the Olympic Committee of Bosnia and Herzegovina presented me with an original
poster from the 14th Winter Olympic Games. From left to right are President Izet Rado,
Vice President Sinisa Kisic and Vice President Marijan Kvesic.

For many Americans, the mention of Sarajevo brings to mind one of two thoughts: the recent war or the 1984 Winter Olympic Games. It’s tough to think of more polar opposites, but these two events have certainly left deep marks on this capital city. Although the 14th Winter Games took place over a relatively short period – especially when compared with a war that stretched beyond three years – I’m pleased that the Olympic spirit survives in Sarajevo.

On Friday, I had the honor of touring the Museum of the 24th Winter Olympic Games, which is located at the Zetra complex, where American figure skater Scott Hamilton won a gold medal. We also met members of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Olympic Committee. This group has not only strived to preserve one of the true bright spots in modern Balkan history, but they’re working hard to revive the Olympic spirit. I share their belief that the unity embodied in the Olympics is a value that can help bring together the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Vucko, the mascot of the Sarajevo Olympic games.

During our tour, my wife, Danuta, and I saw mementoes from the 1984 competition. We saw posters of the mascot, Vučko (little wolf), as well as a gold medal from the games that was disfigured and twisted by flames after the museum was hit by artillery shells during the war. The museum’s director, Edin Numankadić, is personally responsible for shepherding much of the collection to a safe place during the war. Through his enthusiasm and tireless efforts, Mr. Numankadić deserves much credit for keeping the Olympic flame flickering here.

The Museum of the 14th Olympic Games also holds many original works of art, including this piece by
Mersad Berber.  The museum's tireless director, Edin Numankadic (left), is also a painter.

I was also impressed by the ambitions and work of the Olympic Committee of Bosnia and Herzegovina. President Izet Rađo, vice presidents Marjan Kvesić and Siniša Kisić, and acting General Secretary Said Fazlagic represent the three major constituencies of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Yet their efforts are not driven by their birth heritage. These men are bound together by a common dedication to athletic competition. They’re working together to achieve a common goal of advancing sportsmanship throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“We have very good cooperation,” Vice President Marjan Kvesić told me. “We make sure we represent the country in the best possible way.”

For millennia, sports have united people. This remains true today. I applaud the men and women in Bosnia and Herzegovina who have kept the Olympic spirit alive during the years of conflict and war. I hope their efforts will restore this city’s rightfully proud Olympic reputation.