Farther down the run, rocketing along at some 70 mph, the skiers encounter still another weird situation: a series of bumps, some the size of a three-bedroom bungalow. They were bulldozed there in a misguided attempt to make the run truly Olympian in scope. "I couldn't believe how much time I spent in the air," said Canadian ace Steve Podborski. "Coming off the bumps and flying like some Superman, I'd look down between my skis and see myself passing over the spots where the others had landed." But the problem with Bjelašnica's artificial bumps, the racers found, was that whoever put them there hadn't figured out the geometry of landing; as a result, most racers came down on flat areas with great thunks that drew winces from anyone watching. While in training in the week before the pre-Olympic downhill, Switzerland's Peter Müller flew off one bump into a series of aerial maneuvers Podborski called "a helicopter followed by a head plant." Müller escaped with a severe concussion. "I think we should insist that our ski jumpers run this course—not the down-hillers," said Austrian Leonhard Stock.
The downhill consisted of a day of training, a day without snow and a day of racing. The Bad Day at Bjelašnica cost the Organizing Committee $40,000. To keep the racers around for the extra day and to avoid the embarrassment of not having a race, they had to agree to pay the competitors for an extra day's expenses at Sarajevo and at their next stop on the World Cup circuit.
But the result seemed to tell as much about the course as anything the racers had said. When everybody got down off the hill, the surprise winner was one Gerhard (They Call Me Fuffie) Pfaffenbichler, a big, bony, 20-year-old farm boy. He had absolutely bombed the course through its 35 gates in a terrific 1:48.81, comfortably ahead of Podborski (1:49.02) and Fuffie's teammate Franz Klammer (1:49.07). Fuffie announced how he loved the bumps. "I didn't ski the ideal line," he said, "but I was sure fast."
And then came the final Drama of the Downhill, acted out in the smoky lobby of the Bristol Hotel in Sarajevo.
It was dark outside. The bags and skis were packed and stacked in huge untidy piles in the lobby; outside, the buses were warming up for the trip to the airport. The racers lounged about, looking bored. It was that milling-around time so familiar to anybody who has ever been on a tour, skiing or otherwise. And into the lobby, strolling companionably and laughing, came Klammer and Fuffie. Suddenly there was an explosion—a sharp, bursting blam! like a gunshot.
"Aaaaarrrgh," Klammer yelled, and fell to the marble floor clutching his stomach. "Aaaaarrrgh," said Fuffie, who collapsed beside him. There was a shocked second of silence, a panicked moment of sharply indrawn breath. And then the Austrians all burst out laughing. On the lobby floor, still smoking, was a firecracker.
Swell. If there's one assumption that can safely be made about Sarajevo, it's that this definitely isn't the spot to pull off such a stunt—not here, where assassination lies on the edge of everyone's subconscious; not here, a few blocks away from the spot where a Serbian nationalist named Gavrilo Princip shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife to death on June 28, 1914, indirectly igniting World War I.
Still, the firecracker gag served to answer a nagging question. Until then, one faintly puzzling thing about the pre-Olympics was the apparent lack of security. Oh, there was the Yugoslav army, all right, but the soldiers were mostly unarmed young conscripts who marched up and down the courses to pack the trails. But now, suddenly, the Bristol lobby swarmed with plainclothes agents. They had undergone a lightning change, from lounge lizards slumped in lobby chairs to alert—and really ticked-off—cops. The young guy in charge was dressed in a tan sport coat and slacks. No tie. The least likely security agent in town. And now he was hot. He was all for strip-searching everybody on the spot.
"No fire, no fire," Fuffie protested in English, first opening his coat and then patting all his pockets to show that he didn't have any firecrackers on him. Klammer, trying hard to keep a straight face, pointed out that he certainly couldn't have done it. The rest of the Austrian team wore looks of sweet innocence. And off went the entire knot of agents and skiers to search rooms for firecrackers. The skiers all made the bus to the airport, of course.
Later in the week, Olympic press officer Mehmed Husić pointed out that certainly the Sarajevans were worried about terrorists and of course definite precautions had been taken. "But we're not like other nations, with the uniformed men at every corner with their submachine guns," he said. "We don't do that. With we Yugoslavs," he said, "the best security man is the man you don't see he's there."