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There's a spot midway down the bobsled run where the racers could—if they could get the timing right—swing their heads to the right and look down into the eyes of the spectators looking up at them. It's not that the sleds are hanging particularly high on this curve, it's just that the new run does some wonderful dipsy-dos on its way down the mountainside, and in a couple of sections it hangs up there over everybody's head.
"Well, it does give you a real buzz," said Martin Dawes, a rangy member of the British team. The British have a stunning, glossy-black sled. Not fast, mind you, just stunning. "This monster run is a bit fearful at first."
Exactly. The bobsled-luge run will come to be known as the Great Buzzer, the turn-on of the 1984 Winter Games. And for a number of very good reasons: The run has become Sarajevo's new toy, perhaps the best present a town could get in these hard times. It sits smack above the city in a hillside notch called Trebević. A cable car runs right up to it; or one could stroll up in a leisurely hour or so. Trebević has long been a sort of parklike preserve for picnicking by day and necking by night. And now, after dark each day, the run is brightly lit like a jeweled necklace for all the town to see. Cab drivers proudly point it out to foreign passengers: "See up there? Our bob run."
The guy who created this masterpiece had never built a bob run before, which, as it turns out, is obviously the way to go. Gorazd Bučar, a city engineer, collected advice from several international sledding experts—just about every visiting team at the pre-Olympics took bows for having helped—and came up with a new concept in bobsled-luge. It's the world's first sectional, move-it-around, refrigerated run. After the Olympics and between championship meets, it can be unhooked here and there to form three independent separate runs so that Mom, Pop, everybody in town can go sledding on them.
But for now the sledders face a 4,084-foot dash that starts at 3,636 feet altitude and ends with a mighty swoop at 3,223 feet, a 413-foot vertical drop. The steepest grade in the run is 15 degrees, which sounds innocent enough—except that you're on ice. The run snakes through 13 curves, six to the left and seven to the right, a couple of them real neck-wrenchers. "There's no time to rest," says Ekkehard Fasser, pilot of the Swiss four-man sled that blew everybody away in the competition. "After the seventh curve, everything has to be just so. The remainder of the turns are very tight, and there isn't a brakeman here who isn't hurting right now."
The hot two-man sleds were making the run in 49 and 50 seconds—which computes out to an average speed of 55 to 56 mph—and the big sleds were just a bit quicker than that. "That's fast," says East Germany's Wolfgang Gütewort. "You reach 62 miles an hour at the fourth or fifth curve. Maybe 77 miles an hour is your top speed." Bučar agrees, but figures that when they get all the kinks worked out the sleds will top out at maybe 93 mph.
Perhaps they will at the Olympics. But for this winter's cheering Sarajevo crowd, a few miles an hour more or less wasn't going to make any difference. The pre-Olympic show was also the official European championships, involving 39 two-man and 24 four-man crews from 15 countries, and nobody in town had ever seen an event this big.
A wide gravel pathway meanders alongside the bob run—in some spots ducking underneath—and the path is packed with spectators. Here and there along the trail are refreshment stands—maybe the only hot dog stands in the world that sell slivovitz, hearty slugs of it in little airline-type bottles. The Swiss sled wins the four-man gold medal. Živili! Bernhard Lehmann and Bogdan Musiol of East Germany win the two-man. Živili! The orange sleds of Yugoslavia finish way back there, but aren't they brave lads? Živili! The empties litter the path and the fierce smell of slivovitz hovers like a fog over the crowd.
The locals learn the language and magic of bobsledding quickly. At the start, they watch as the sledders appear in skintight racing suits, crash helmets and elbow pads. The racers lean against their sled and raise their feet, and a trainer scrapes their shoes with a wire brush to give them traction on the ice. Then, rocking the sled back and forth, they chant the countdown in unison. This is the moment the crowd is waiting for. For some arcane reason, bobsledders have always started with this chant. It takes no time to learn and it comes in no special language. And now, as the racers push off, the onlookers all yell in thunderous unison, "Hup, hup! Chuck, chuck, chuck!"
No wonder it's such a great venue. You get to watch and, in a small way, participate. And the lugers, when they come to town a week later, provide much the same kick. "I'm really impressed," says Bonnie Warner, 20, a U.S. luger from California's Mt. Baldy Village. "Usually you can't satisfy both sports with a combination bobsled-luge run. Bobsledders like big, wide curves, and lugers like them tight. But this is a compromise between the two—with all of the speed thrown in."