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Jure Franko delighted Yugoslav fans at the Sarajevo Games in 1984 by winning the country its first ever Winter Olympic Games medal – making him a national hero and sparking raucous celebrations in the city after his silver medal.
The giant slalom specialist, from Nova Gorica in the Julian Alps, collected a silver medal with a time of 2:41.41, sending hundreds of spectators lining the course at Mount Bjelasnica into raptures.
Franko and his brother took up skiing at a young age, both coached by their father Matthias, a successful ski jumper. His result at the Sarajevo Games, though momentous, was not entirely surprising.
Before he’d turned 18 he had had taken part in the Lake Placid Games in 1980, finishing a creditable 12th in the giant slalom, and as the 1984 Olympics began, the lanky skier was in fifth place in the World Cup and had achieved two podium finishes.
But the pressure to make it to the podium was intense. No host nation of the Winter Games had ever failed to win a medal, and the much-fancied ski jumper Primoz Ulaga, who had won a pre-Olympics event at the Igman hill, could only muster 57th in the 70m and 13th in the 90m. All eyes were on Franko.
After the first giant slalom run he lay in fourth place. And he held his nerve to record the fastest time in the second leg, leaving him in second place overall behind Max Julen of Switzerland. Franko beamed with joy after the result – an image seared in the collective sporting memory of citizens of the former Yugoslavia.
So sweet was the 21-year-old’s win that locals thronged the medal ceremony in Sarajevo’s Skenderija Square, where children carried a banner daubed with the slogan ‘Olimpijski Snovi’, or Olympic dreams.
The multilingual Franko, a universal favourite with the international media and skiing fans, said afterwards: “I hope it doesn’t change my life.”
Speaking to Time magazine, he recalled the 1984 ceremonies in his home country, saying: “When the crowd saw the flag, they stood up and went mad, absolutely mad. It was indescribable. I remember having goose bumps all over my body that day.
“None of the tensions were present, certainly none that would lead you to think a war would ever break out among us.
“Having the Olympics in Sarajevo gave them special significance, because Sarajevo was the heart of Yugoslavia. Sarajevo was where the mix of all ethnic groups and nationalities had lived together through history.”
Franko retired after the 1984-85 season, having achieved 23 top ten places in his World Cup career, along with his Olympic silver medal.
Franko’s Olympic journey continued after he retired from racing. He took part in the in Olympic torch relay ahead of the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, carrying the symbolic flame from his native Nova Gorica across the border into Italy.
He also organised a trip for local children from modest backgrounds to visit the giant slalom races at the Turin Games and is involved in humanitarian work in the Olympic movement.