OLYMPICS: Sarajevo Medallist Franko Remembers 1984 Olympics

Ljubljana, 5 February - Jure Franko, the winner 30 years ago of the first ever Slovenian or Yugoslav medal at Winter Olympics, has recaptured for the STA some of the moments from Sarajevo, where he raced to giant slalom silver in front of a roaring crowd of 40,000 people. The 51-year-old believes Slovenia can again become a leading power in skiing.

Vučko, official Sarajevo 1984 Winter Olympics mascot.
Photo: STA

"When Franz Gruber, who was third after the first run, clocked in behind me, it meant that the medal was practically already ours or mine. And this was also the basic goal of hosting the Olympics in Yugoslavia," Franko said.

While the athletes were not feeling this pressure at the time, he has come to "see over the years how much this medal meant: what was Yugoslavia then would have otherwise been the first Olympics host in history to remain without a medal".

Asked about the stardom after the feat, Franko said that "to some extent there was even too much of this". "There was no sport management here at the time that could protect you against all that."

"I used to use bus to go to practice, but after the Olympics this was no longer possible and I needed to get a car," Franko said, explaining he is still being stopped on the street today, even in Sarajevo, where it "feels like returning to 1984".

Franko retired from World Cup skiing only a year after Sarajevo at the age of 23 over hip problems to later turn pro in the US. He had a successful business career in Japan and is now back in Slovenia with his family.

Commenting on the situation of Slovenian competitive skiing at the moment, Franko hailed the achievements of last year's overall World Cup winner Tina Maze.

He however noted that Slovenia, a small country where everybody wants their share, cannot expect but such sporadic exceptional individuals unless it decides to focus on priority sports.

"If it decides for skiing, I think skiing can again become as successful as it used to be in our time," said Franko, whose achievement has been followed by ten more Slovenian medals, although gold is still missing.

As regards the general development of skiing in the last three decades, Franko said that the equipment has brought in much more biomechanics.

"In our time we relied much more on the feeling itself...The sport has changed and become professional...This is part of the times we are living in...but I am still absolutely of the opinion that old romantic ideals should be preserved as much as possible as that is what is beautiful in sport."

Returning to the gains related to his Sarajevo medal, Franko stressed that there was no marketing then and "marketing-wise the medal practically meant nothing in old Yugoslavia".

"We had stipends from the skiing association, 30 Deutsch marks a month, and a 60 D-marks monthly stipend from Elan...I received a car from the skiing association to use for one season."

Franko explained that Austrian downhiller Fran Klammer, who had had a similar experience in Innsbruck where he won gold in 1976, approached him in Sarajevo seeing the euphoria he had caused.

"Jure, you are taken care of now," Franko was told by the Austrian, but had "not the slightest idea of what he was talking about".

"Well, certainly an Olympic medal, implying a kind of trustworthiness, opened doors. But that was only abroad, we did not have this professional attitude at home then."

© STA, 2014