Warmth, hospitality of Sarajevo hosts impress Olympic visitors
Greetings from the Winter Olympics. The Games here will soon be history, and successful history at that, with praise heaped on the organizers from all sides.
The hosts have made believers of most everybody, even skeptical visiting journalists who two months ago snickered at the suggestion that everything was ready. Would the phones really work, electrical power be adequate, and the transportation system operative?
With few exceptions, the answers have all been in the affirmative.
In certain cases, the race against the clock was more than evident, such as at Dobrinja, the press village, where fresh plaster dust still decorates the hallways.
But the Yugoslavs have taken the Avis ''We try harder'' approach at almost every turn. Within days, for example, boxed cereals and a better grade of orange juice were quietly added to the Dobrinja breakfast menu.
A supermarket near the main press work center has bilingual clerks roaming the aisles offering their assistance. And by American standards the food prices are inordinately cheap, with a sandwich the size of a throw pillow about a dollar, and a full meal about $3.
There are some surprises, though, as when a handful of laundered and pressed underwear carries a $5 charge, or the time two phone calls to Oregon cost one bewildered reporter $130.
Western touches, incidentally are quite prevalent here. Merrill Lynch billboards salute the Olympic spirit, while John Wayne and Woody Allen movies unexpectedly pop onto the press center TV monitors with Serbo-Croatian subtitles.
Many American fans are in evidence as well. If the US hockey team had started fast, in fact, a rooting section nearly as raucous as that in Lake Placid was ready to raise Zetra's Olympic Hall rafters.
By contrast, far fewer fans follow the many East German and Soviet medalists, although there is a visible East German press corps attired in identical parkas emblazoned with a '''GDR Presse'' crest.
The real legions, however, are outfitted in the jackets of ABC Sports and JRT , the Yugoslav broadcasting network. They can make a soloing newspaperman feel like a grain of sand.
But as veteran Detroit columnist Joe Falls said so aptly, ''ABC has all those pictures, but they can't have my head. I'll write what I see.''
Of course, for American scribes used to a steady diet of baseball, basketball , football, etc., the indoctrination to winter sports coverage can be all too rapid. Recognizing his shortcomings, one writer asked facetiously, ''How big do you have to be to compete in the giant slalom?''
Earlier in the Olympics, the more appropriate query was ''Will there ever be a giant slalom?''
The Alpine skiing events were subjected to repeated postponements due to heavy snow and fierce winds that shut down the lifts stretching up the sides of Mounts Jahorina and Bjelasnica. Through this trying period, the Sarajevans put their best booted foot forward, working around the clock to groom the slopes and keep the Olympic buses running - this despite severed transportation lines into the city.
Even before sunshine bathed these games, though, they had a warmth of their own, stoked by genuine Balkan hospitiality. This friendliness far owershadowed the stringent security measures that are part and parcel of any modern Olympics (though even in this day and age, arming night patrolmen with machine guns seemed a bit much).
Language differences are generally not a problem for Americans at the Games, since French and English are the official Olympic tongues. On those occasions when tedious translations are required, however, the situation can become laughable, as when the Czech hockey coach passed all his press conference remarks through three translators. When finally shared in English, his answers were suspiciously short and bland.
Translations, of course, are not needed for the roars that accompany the introduction of every Yugoslav competitor, the most heroic being giant slalom silver medalist Jurij Franko.
Even before Franko thrilled a huge home rooting section at Mount Bjelasnica by securing Yugoslavia's first-ever winter medal, seemingly all of Sarajevo turned up at the ski jumps to watch their nation's flyers at last Sunday's 70 -meter event.
Peering down into this elevated mountain bowl, one discovered a large, festive crowd encapsulated in a majestic winter setting canopied by thick snowy skies. It was like coming upon an ancient Inca civilization, a rare and unforgettable experience.