March 3 2006
An Olympic Journal
03/03/2006- The XX Winter Olympic Games in Turin have ended. The medals have all been awarded, the flag has been passed to Vancouver and the flame is out. But the excitement that is the Olympiad remains alive. Here you will read the Olympic memories of fifteen children from SOS Children's Village Sarajevo as witnessed and told by Sandra Kasalo-Fazlic, fundraiser of SOS Children's Village Bosnia & Herzegovina.
How It All Began
In January 2006 Jure Franko, who won a silver medal at the 1984 Winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo and made 22 million people from the former Yugoslavia proud and happy, received an invitation from the Slovenian Olympic Committee to be a torchbearer for the 20th Winter Olympic Games in Turin. "I want to make more of this event rather than just passing the flame. I want to make it about promoting the Olympic spirit," said Jure, who decided to take 45 children from three cities - Sarajevo, Nova Gorica (Slovenia) and the Italian town of Gorizia - to the men's giant slalom race at this year's Olympics. Through the Bosnian Ski Federation, this unique possibility was offered to SOS Children's Village Sarajevo. And so began our Olympic adventure...
The preparations started on 16 February when Jure Franko landed at the Sarajevo airport. The next day all headlines read, "He Is Back in Sarajevo!" As guest of SOS Children's Village Sarajevo, Jure spent two nights in the village and used every break between the many official and unofficial meetings to be with the children.
In the "SOS-family" of SOS mother Isma, Jure took out a wooden box containing his trophy. The heavy silver medal hung on a worn-out red ribbon. Jure put the medal on young Ismar's neck and commented: "You are now really back home." The other children also had a chance to wear the Olympic medal.
Road to the Olympics
We departed the morning of 18 February for Nova Gorica. A crowd of journalists, state officials, representatives of the Bosnian Ski Federation and the Slovenian Embassy wished us well and saw us off on our journey. They were accompanied by neighbours from Mojmilo Hill, accidental passers-by, school friends and others. When we left, the SOS mothers waved for a long time. Earlier that morning, they packed warm clothes, sandwiches, hot tea and advised the children to behave themselves and be polite because, as they said, "you are now representing Olympic Sarajevo".
After a day's journey we arrived for an overnight stay in Nova Gorica. Nova Gorica and Gorizia are two parts of one town which was divided after the Second World War. The next day we met with the Slovenian and Italian children in the square that connects Nova Gorica and Gorizia. The Mayors of Nova Gorica and of Gorizia, Mirko Brulc and Vittorio Brancati, wished us a safe and pleasant journey. Dr Stanislav Pinter, the head of the Slovenian delegation, offered us the best wishes of several Slovenian athletes: the great gymnast and Olympic medallist Miroslav Cerar, trophy skier Matea Svet and ski jumper Matjaz Zupan, French Open winner Mima Jausovec, and others.
It was dark when we arrived in Turin. We didn't get to see much of the city, but we had the opportunity to try the famous Italian "pasta pommodore". When the meal was served, a few of our children turned to the waitress and asked for - ketchup! Confused at first, she smiled, explained the restaurant doesn't serve ketchup and offered to bring extra "pommodore" (tomato sauce) in return.
Tired after the long drive, we swept all food off our plates. The next day was the big one! We had to get up at half past four and drive for another 200 kilometres to Sestriere for the men's giant slalom race. Jure Franko was already there. He greeted us at the entrance together with his wife Simona, a popular Slovenian journalist.
Wearing hats which read "Sarajevo", we headed to our standing place near the finish line. We soon discovered that 10-year-olds aren't tall enough to see the action on the slopes! Now what? Jure Franko jumped to the rescue and asked the organizers if they would allow us to watch the second run seated in the grandstands. When we found out that the cheapest ticket for those seats was 110 Euros, we didn't have much hope.
In the break between the runs, we ate lunch in the Olympic village. Following a thorough search by the Carabineri (Italian law enforcement officers) we joined the Olympians from around the world for a meal. With a variety of dishes from almost every cuisine in the world to choose from, our children unanimously decided to have the local pride - pizza. This time they found ketchup.
At half past one we were back for the second run. We watched it comfortably seated. Many thanks to the organizers! In solidarity with our new friends, we cheered for the Italian and Slovenian skiers. We also supported the Croat skier, as well as Mathieu Razanakolona, who was announced by the official speaker as a Macedonian competitor. The cheering went on even after the official correction: "Sorry, sorry, it isn't Macedonia, it is Madagascar."* We jumped off our seats and cheered the loudest when the Bosnian skier, Marko Schafferer, raced down the track. Even though he finished in 37th place overall, he didn't disappoint our children. "Wow, he's fast! Did you see how he flew?" were some of the children’s comments.
At the end we enthusiastically applauded bronze medalist Hermann "Herminator" Maier, silver medalist Joel Chenal from France and the Austrian victor Benjamin Raich. This wasn't the end of the excitements, however.
Champions in the House
The larger countries at the Olympics has their own "house" in which the national culture and cuisine were promoted. Jure Franko took us for a visit of the Italian House, where we met with three ski legends: Italian skier Alberto Tomba, winner of three gold and two silver medals in Calgary, Albertville and Lillehammer; Italian skier Piero Gros, gold medalist from Innsbruck 1976; and Austrian legend Toni Sailer, three-time gold medal winner at the 1956 Winter Olympic Games in Cortina d'Ampezzo.
Tomba, Gros, Sailer and Franko gave interviews about the Olympic Spirit Bus to the Italian radio and television stations. Then they posed with us for group photographs and received gifts from all three cities. Tomba personally invited all children to taste the traditional Italian delights.
Jure had one last surprise for us. Earlier in February, Jure asked the famous Slovenian artist Joze Trobec, the author of "Vuchko" - "little wolf", mascot of the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympic Games - to draw and sign 45 posters with the happy wolf. Franko had each poster autographed by Tomba, Gros, Sailer and himself and presented each child with one. It was a precious and sentimental gift that our children will treasure.
Bringing Home the Spirit
It was difficult to say goodbye to our dear friend Jure, who continued his stay in Sestriere. "Sarajevo is no longer simply the place where I won my Olympic medal. It is also a place where I have you, my friends!" he said to the children, promising them he would not wait for another 22 years before visiting us again.
The Olympic Spirit Bus was on the road again, this time taking us home. At the square in Nova Gorica and Gorizia we said goodbye to our Slovenian and Italian friends. The children exchanged addresses, telephone numbers and promises that their friendship would not end at that square. At the end of the trip, just as we were entering Sarajevo, our boy Admir said that he had a great time and emphasized how extremely important it was for him to see the two Bosnian skiers.
"Which two Bosnian skiers?" I asked. "We only saw one."
"Marko Schafferer and Jure Franko," Admir answered. I think he's right!
* Note: Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia and Macedonia together with Serbia & Montenegro and Slovenia comprised the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia from 1945 to 1991