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1988 Summer Olympics
1988 Summer Olympics

The 1988 Summer Olympics (Korean Korean: 서울 하계 올림픽; RRSeoul Hagye Ollimpik [sʌ.ul ɦaɡje olːimpʰik]), officially known as the Games of the XXIV Olympiad, was an international multi-sport event celebrated from 17 September to 2 October 1988 in Seoul, South Korea.

In the Seoul Games, 159 nations were represented by a total of 8,391 athletes: 6,197 men and 2,194 women. 237 events were held and 27,221 volunteers helped to prepare the Olympics. 11,331 media (4,978 written press and 6,353 broadcasters) showed the Games all over the world.[4]

These were the last Olympic Games for the Soviet Union and East Germany, as both ceased to exist before the next Olympic Games. The Soviets utterly dominated the medal table, winning 55 gold and 132 total medals. No country came close to this result after 1988.

The games were boycotted by North Korea and its ally, Cuba. Ethiopia, Albania and the Seychelles did not respond to the invitations sent by the IOC.[5] Nicaragua did not participate due to athletic and financial considerations.[6] The participation of Madagascar had been expected, and their team was expected at the opening ceremony of 160 nations. However, the country withdrew because of financial reasons.[7] Nonetheless, the much larger boycotts seen in the previous three Summer Olympics (1976, 1980 and 1984) were avoided, resulting in the largest number of participating nations during the Cold War era.

Host city selection

Seoul was chosen to host the Summer Games through a vote held on 30 September 1981, finishing ahead of the Japanese city of Nagoya.[4][8] Below was the vote count that occurred at the 84th IOC Session and 11th Olympic Congress in Baden-Baden, West Germany.[9]

After the Olympics were awarded, Seoul also received the opportunity to stage the 10th Asian Games in 1986, using them to test its preparation for the Olympics.


  • In its final Olympics, the Soviet Union utterly dominated the medal table winning 55 gold and 132 total medals. No country came close to this result after 1988.
  • Soviet Vladimir Artemov won four gold medals in gymnastics.[11] Daniela Silivaş of Romania won three and equalled compatriot Nadia Comăneci's record of seven Perfect 10s in one Olympic Games.[12]
  • After having demolished the world record in the 100 m dash at the Olympic Trials in Indianapolis, U.S. sprinter Florence Griffith Joyner set an Olympic record (10.62) in the 100-metre dash and a still-standing world record (21.34) in the 200-metre dash to capture gold medals in both events. To these medals, she added a gold in the 4×100 relay and a silver in the 4×400.[13]
  • Canadian Ben Johnson won the 100 m final with a new world record, but was disqualified after he tested positive for stanozolol. Johnson has since claimed that his positive test was the result of sabotage.[14][15]
  • In the Women's Artistic Gymnastics Team All-Around Competition, the U.S. women's team was penalized with a deduction of five tenths of a point from their team score by the Fédération Internationale de Gymnastique (FIG) after the compulsory round due to their Olympic team alternate Rhonda Faehn appearing on the podium for the uneven bars during the duration of Kelly Garrison-Steve's compulsory uneven bars routine, despite not competing, having been caught by the East German judge, Ellen Berger. The U.S. finished fourth after the completion of the optional rounds with a combined score of 390.575, three tenths of a point behind East Germany. This still remains controversial in the sport of gymnastics, as the U.S. performed better than the East German team and they would have taken the bronze medal in the team competition had they not been penalized or had an inquiry accepted to receive the points back.
  • Phoebe Mills won an individual bronze medal on the balance beam, shared with Romania's Gabriela Potorac, making history as the first medal (team or individual) ever won by a U.S. woman in artistic gymnastics at a fully attended games.
  • The USSR (Soviet Union) won their final team gold medals in artistic gymnastics on both the men's and women's sides with scores of 593.350 and 395.475 respectively. The men's team was led by Vladimir Artemov, while Elena Shushunova lead the women's team.
  • Lawrence Lemieux, a Canadian sailor in the Finn class, was in second place and poised to win a silver medal when he abandoned the race to save an injured competitor. He arrived in 21st place, but was recognized by the IOC with the Pierre de Coubertin medal honoring his bravery and sacrifice.
  • U.S. diver Greg Louganis won back-to-back titles on both diving events despite hitting his head on the springboard in the third round and suffering a concussion.
  • Christa Luding-Rothenburger of East Germany became the first (and only) athlete to win Olympic medals at the Winter Olympics and Summer Olympics in the same year. She added a cycling silver to the speed skating gold she won earlier in the Winter Olympics of that year in Calgary.[16]
  • Anthony Nesty of Suriname won his country's first Olympic medal by winning the 100 m butterfly, scoring an upset victory over Matt Biondi by .01 of a second (thwarting Biondi's attempt[17] of breaking Mark Spitz' record seven golds in one Olympic event); he was the first black person to win an individual swimming gold.[18]
  • Swimmer Kristin Otto of East Germany won six gold medals. Other multi-medalists in the pool were Matt Biondi (five)[19] and Janet Evans (three).[20]
  • Swedish fencer Kerstin Palm became the first woman to take part in seven Olympics.[4]
  • Swimmer Mel Stewart of the U.S. was the most anticipated to win the men's 200 m butterfly final[21] but surprisingly, came in 5th.[22]
  • Mark Todd of New Zealand won his second consecutive individual gold medal in the three-day event in equestrian on Charisma, only the second time in eventing history that a gold medal has been won consecutively.[23]
  • Baseball[24] and Taekwondo[25] were demonstration sports. The opening ceremony featured a mass demonstration of taekwondo with hundreds of adults and children performing moves in unison.
  • This was the last time the U.S. was represented by a basketball team that did not feature NBA players (featuring college players);[26] the team won the bronze medal after being defeated by the Soviet Union (that was represented by veteran professionals) which went on to win the gold medal.[27]
  • For the first time in history, all the dressage events were won by women.[28]
  • Women's judo was held for the first time, as a demonstration sport.[29]
  • Bowling was held as a demonstration sport, with Kwon Jong Yul of South Korea and Arianne Cerdeña from the Philippines winning the men's and women's gold medals, respectively.
  • Table tennis was introduced at the Olympics, with China and South Korea both winning two titles.[30]
  • Tennis returned to the Olympics after a 64-year absence,[31] and Steffi Graf added to her four Grand Slam victories in the year by also winning the Olympic title,[32] beating Sabatini in the final.[33]
  • Two Bulgarian weightlifters were stripped of their gold medals after failing doping tests, and the team withdrew after this event.[34]
  • In boxing, Roy Jones Jr. of the U.S. dominated his opponents, never losing a single round en route to the final. In the final, he controversially lost a 3–2 decision to South Korean fighter Park Si-Hun despite pummeling Park for three rounds and landing 86 punches to Park's 32.[35][36][37]
  • Another boxing controversy involved a match between South Korea's Jong-il Byun and Bulgaria's Alexander Hristov. A random spectator ran around "winding up" the crowd before the match and New Zealander referee Keith Walker repeated warned Jong-Il regarding headbutting. When the decision went against Jong-il, a sub-set of spectators stormed the ring and attacked Walker, with South Korean Olympic officials and security guards also kicking him before his fellow referees pulled him away.[37][38]
  • In yet another boxing controversy, Riddick Bowe of the US lost a controversial match in the finals to future world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis. Bowe had a dominant first round, landing 33 of 94 punches thrown (34%) while Lewis landed 14 of 67 (21%). In the first round the referee from East Germany gave Bowe two cautions for headbutts and deducted a point for a third headbutt, although replay clearly showed there was no headbutt. Commentator Ferdie Pacheco disagreed with the deduction, saying they did not hit heads. In the second round, Lewis landed several hard punches. The referee gave Bowe two standing eight counts and waved the fight off after the second one, even though Bowe seemed able to continue. Pacheco disagreed with the stoppage, calling it "very strange."[39]
  • Soviet weightlifter Yury Zakharevich won the men's heavyweight (up to 110 kg class) with a 210 kg snatch and 245 kg clean and jerk for a 455 kg total. Zakhareivich had dislocated his elbow in 1983 attempting a world record and had it rebuilt with synthetic tendons.
  • Indonesia gained its first medal in Olympic history when the women's team won a silver medal in archery.

Live doves were released during the opening ceremony as a symbol of world peace, but a number of the doves were burned alive or suffered major trauma by the lighting of the Olympic cauldron. As a result of protests following the incident, the last time live doves were released at the opening ceremony was in 1992 in Barcelona, hours before the flame was lit. Balloon doves were released in 1994 at the Lillehammer Winter Games and paper doves were used at the Atlanta Ceremony in 1996.[40]

These were also the last Summer Olympic Games to hold the Opening Ceremony during the daytime. The opening ceremony featured a skydiving team descending over the stadium and forming the five-colored Olympic Rings,[41] as well as a mass demonstration of taekwondo. The skydiving team trained at SkyDance SkyDiving and had hoped the opening ceremony appearance would set the stage for skydiving becoming a medal event by 2000.[42]

Significance of 1988 Olympics in South Korea

Hosting the 1988 Olympics presented an opportunity to bring international attention to South Korea.[43] The idea for South Korea to place a bid for the 1988 Games emerged during the last days of the Park Chung-hee administration in the late 1970s. After President Park's assassination in 1979, Chun Doo-hwan, his successor, submitted Korea's bid to the IOC in September 1981, in hopes that the increased international exposure brought by the Olympics would legitimize his authoritarian regime amidst increasing political pressure for democratization, provide protection from increasing threats from North Korea, and showcase the Korean economic miracle to the world community.[44] South Korea was awarded the bid on 30 September 1981, becoming the 20th host nation (16th in the Summer Olympics), as well as the second Asian nation (following Japan in the 1964 Summer Olympics) and the first mainland Asian nation.

Copying the model of 1964 Tokyo Olympics as a rite of passage for the Japanese economy and re-integration of Japan in the family of nations in the post-war era, the South Korean government hoped to use the Olympics as a "coming-out party". The Olympics gave a powerful impetus to the development of South Korea's relations with Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and with China.[45]

In utilizing media events theory, Larson and Park investigated the 1988 Seoul Olympics as a form of political communication. They revealed the significance of South Korea's military government throughout the period of the Olympic bid and preparation, followed by the many advantages of the Seoul Olympics: rapid economic modernization, social mobilization and the legitimization of the military dictatorship.[46]

Expansion of "vagrant" camps prior to Olympics

Existing camps for "vagrants" (homeless persons) were ramped up prior to the 1988 Olympics. An Associated Press article states that homeless and alcoholic persons, "but mostly children and the disabled" were arrested and sent to these camps to prepare for the Olympics. In addition, a prosecutor had his investigation into the Brothers Home camp limited at a number of levels of government "in part out of fear of an embarrassing international incident on the eve of the Olympics."[47]

In 1975, the previous president of South Korea had begun a policy of rounding up vagrants. According to government documents obtained by the Associated Press, from 1981 to 1986 the number of persons held increased from 8,600 to more than 16,000. Police officers often received promotions based on the number of vagrants they had arrested, and owners of facilities received a subsidy based on the number of persons held. There were multiple reports of inmates being raped or beaten, and sometimes beaten to death.[47]

4,000 of these "vagrants" were held at the Brothers Home facility. Many of the guards were former inmates who had been "promoted" because of loyalty to the camp's owner. Various money-making operations were conducted such as manufacturing ball-point pens and fishing hooks, as well as clothing for Daewoo. Only a few inmates were paid belatedly for this work.[47]

By accident while on a hunting trip, prosecutor Kim Yong Won heard about and visited a work detail of prisoners in ragged clothes being overseen by guards with wooden bats and dogs. In his words, he knew immediately that "a very serious crime" was occurring. And in January 1987, he led a raid on the facility and found beaten and malnourished inmates. However, he received political pressure at various levels to reduce the charges against the owner, managers, and guards. In the end, the owner only served two-and-a-half years in prison.[47]

The Brothers Home was a religious facility based on the Christian faith. There were in fact inspections by both city officials and church officials. However, these were scheduled inspections in which healthier inmates were presented in carefully planned and orchestrated circumstances. There were no unannounced inspections.[47]

In the 1990s, construction workers found about 100 human bones on a mountainside outside the location of the former Brothers Home.[47]

1988 Summer Olympics boycott

In preparation for the 1988 Olympics, the International Olympic Committee worked to prevent another Olympic boycott by the Eastern Bloc as had happened at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. This was made more difficult by the lack of diplomatic relations between South Korea and communist countries. This prompted action by the IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch, who was committed to the participation of these countries. Thus, at the Assembly of National Olympic Committees in Mexico City in November 1984, the "Mexico Declaration" [1] [66] was adopted; by it, the participants agreed to include the host of the Olympic Games in 1988. The agreement of the Soviet Union was reached in 1987. After the Los Angeles games, East Germany had already decided to participate again in Seoul. The IOC also decided that it would send invitations to the 1988 Games itself and did not leave this task to the organizing committee as had been done before. Despite these developments, behind the scenes, the IOC did consider relocating the Games and explored the suitability of Munich as an alternative.

Another point of conflict was the involvement of North Korea in hosting the Games, something that had been encouraged by Cuban president Fidel Castro, who called for North Korea to be considered joint host of the Games. As a result, on 8 and 9 January 1986 in Lausanne, Switzerland, the IOC President chaired a meeting of the North and South Korean Olympic Committees. North Korea demanded that eleven of the 23 Olympic sports be carried out on its territory, and also demanded special opening and closing ceremonies. It wanted a joint organizing committee and a united team. The negotiations were continued into another meeting, but were not successful. The IOC did not meet the demands of North Korea and only about half of the desired sporting events were offered to the North. So the focus thereafter was solely on Seoul and South Korea.[48]

The games were boycotted by North Korea and its ally, Cuba. Ethiopia, Albania and the Seychelles did not respond to the invitations sent by the IOC.[5] Nicaragua did not participate due to athletic and financial considerations.[6] The participation of Madagascar had been expected, and their team was expected at the opening ceremony of 160 nations. However, the country withdrew for financial reasons.[7]

Official theme song

In 1988, the Seoul Olympic Organizing Committee (SLOOC) decided to produce and distribute an official song of the Seoul Games to publicize the Games to all the IOC member nations, encouraging their participation in the festival and consolidating the harmony and friendship of the entire world citizens through the song. The song "Hand in Hand" was written by Italian composer Giorgio Moroder and American songwriter Tom Whitlock, and performed by singing group Koreana.


E Existing facilities modified or refurbished in preparation for the Olympic Games. N New facilities constructed in preparation for the Olympic Games.


According to The Oxford Olympics Study data is not available to establish the cost of the Seoul 1988 Summer Olympics.[49] Average cost for Summer Games since 1960, for which data are available, is US$5.2 billion.


The 1988 Summer Olympics featured 23 different sports encompassing 31 disciplines, and medals were awarded in 237 events. In the list below, the number of events in each discipline is noted in parentheses.

These were the demonstration sports in the games:[4]


Participating National Olympic Committees

Athletes from 159 nations competed at the Seoul Games. Aruba, American Samoa, Brunei, Cook Islands, Maldives, Vanuatu, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and South Yemen made their first Olympic appearance at these Games. Guam made their first Summer Olympic appearance at these games having participated in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.

In the following list, the number in parentheses indicates the number of athletes from each nation that competed in Seoul:[50]

  • When the team from the Dominican Republic marched in during the Parade of Nations, the superimposed map erroneously showed the location of Cuba.[51]

Medal count

These are the top ten nations that won medals at the 1988 Games.

   Host nation (South Korea)


The official mascot for the 1988 Summer Olympic Games was Hodori. It was a stylized tiger designed by Kim Hyun as an amicable Amur tiger, portraying the friendly and hospitable traditions of the Korean people.[52] Hodori's female version was called Hosuni.[53]

The name 호돌이 Hodori was chosen from 2,295 suggestions sent in by the public. It is a compound of 호 ho, the Sino-Korean bound morpheme for "tiger" (appearing also in the usual word 호랑이 horangi for "tiger"), and 돌이 dori, a diminutive for "boys".[52]

Broadcast rights

The 1988 Games were covered by the following broadcasters:

See also

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