2 Nov 2022

People of Bormio: The Story of Ariana Boras

Reading 7min
Photo of Ariana Boras

Three Olympics but competing for two countries. Escaping from a war as a girl, she built a new life in Bormio thanks to two Italian skiing champions.


Seneca said that to be happy you have to change your mind-set, not the sky under which you live. There are cases, however, in which it is only thanks to moving country that you can find serenity. Ariana Boras has participated in three Olympics, one under the flag of Yugoslavia and two under that of Bosnia and Herzegovina. She was only 16 years old when thanks to sport she managed to leave a war-torn country. Today Bormio is the place she calls home, the Stelvio is "her run" and Milano Cortina 2026 will be the Games in her country. Walking in the medieval centre of Bormio, among frescoes and artisan shops, she looks up to the sky and says: "The sky above Bormio is the most beautiful in the world".

Photo of Ariana Boras


How did your passion for skiing come about?

My father was a ski instructor in Bjelašnica and he wanted us all to be skiers. But the moment that changed everything was the Sarajevo Olympics in 1984. I went to see the men's downhill race and there and then my dream was born. At the age of 12 I received my first call-up to the national team. At 16 I qualified for Albertville 1992. We left for France by bus from Sarajevo and arrived after an endless journey: we slept in the homes of locals who had offered to host us. It was nice because you really got to breathe the spirit of the place.


How did your first Olympic experience go?

Unfortunately, my first Olympic experience ended early due to an injury during my first race, the combined one. I was desperate, they took me to hospital and who did I have in the bed next to me?! Deborah Compagnoni She had won gold in the Super-G and the next day suffered one of her most serious knee ligament injuries. Maybe that was the first time I heard her talk about Bormio, she was born here.


Albertville 1992 - Lillehammer 1994 In two years the world and your world had changed, how did you experience that period?

When I got out of the hospital, about a month after the end of Albertville 1992, I was told I couldn't go home because of the war. I was a minor abroad, the airports in Sarajevo were closing, I needed a special visa to re-enter: my family had to come and pick me up. Those were very difficult times. I can clearly remember the phone ringing one night at home and my father answering. They told him that now that Bosnia had become a state, they were looking for athletes to form a team for the Lillehammer Olympics. My father said to me: "We're not sending you away. It's an opportunity, it's your only chance to save yourself." I couldn't sleep, so I packed my backpack and left the next day to train in Slovenia.


As an athlete, what was your perception of war?

We were a bunch of guys who grew up together and trained together, but suddenly we were racing under different flags. At the Olympics, however, you really feel that barriers are broken down and that we are all united through sport.


Can sport bring people together?

I am convinced that sport can change the world because it changes people. It makes you grow, it makes you learn, it shapes your character and your way of seeing things. It made me responsible and taught me how to fight. War divides, it took away my childhood, took away my friends and forced me to leave my home. It is thanks to skiing that I had the chance of a second life, I met new people, I travelled, I had experiences that have brought me here today. That's what happened in my case, but I'm sure it's the same for many others.


Panoramic photo of Bormio


Why did you decide to move to Bormio?

I chose Bormio thanks to Alberto Tomba and Deborah Compagnoni! I met Deborah in 1992, but Alberto and I trained on the same run before Lillehammer 1994. At the end of that Olympics I couldn't go back to Sarajevo and it was the two of them who put me in touch with their sponsors. The Apt della Valtellina provided me with a house and gave me the opportunity to continue skiing.


Do you remember the first day you arrived here?


I will never forget the sky that greeted me and the colours of the mountains that day. We arrived in a van along with four others and my coach after a very long journey. I don't know why, but the first thing we did was to play football in a small square, maybe it was the first gesture of real lightheartedness. We are still in contact with the operators of the Apt at the time, when they see me they always say: "We remember the first day you arrived! you were so young!”. For me, Bormio was love at first sight.


How did the local community welcome you?

The guys from the Bormio ski club welcomed me immediately, I came from Sarajevo and I didn't speak Italian, sport brought us together and helped me integrate. The war has affected my life, often things have gone differently than I imagined but it is destiny that brought me here and if I look back I am happy.


What do you love most about Bormio?

When I ended my career as an athlete in 2001, I began to really experience the land. I love skiing on the Forni glacier, relaxing at the spa, admiring nature in Val Viola, seeing wild animals in Val Zebrù. Here in Bormio I then discovered ski mountaineering. I arrived when I was still a minor, today I am 45 years old: I have now lived more of my life here than in Sarajevo. This is now home for me. I met my partner here and I have been working in a clothing store for more than 10 years. I often go back to my parents, but when I'm there I miss Bormio! That's why I try to convince them to move here.


In 2026 you will relive the Olympics in your adopted home, what does this mean for you?

I already feel that the Games in my adopted home are mine. It's going to be my fourth Olympics. I imagine Milano Cortina 2026 as green, new, modern, without wars and without Covid. I had the honour of leading the way in the women's downhill during the World Cup finals in 1996 on the Stelvio, but the men's downhill during the 2026 Olympics will be an incredible spectacle!


In 2026, where would you take a young Bosnian athlete arriving in Bormio for the first time?

To eat pizzoccheri (a traditional pasta dish of Valtellnese cuisine) in the piazza!

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