Seoul 1988

Seoul 1988

After boycotts, financial blow-outs and tragic terrorist attacks at recent Games, the Olympics suffered another shocking blow at Seoul in 1988: the doping disqualification of Canada’s Ben Johnson after his victory in the men’s 100m sprint in the world record time of 9.79 seconds. Johnson’s triumph over fierce rival Carl Lewis, the American defending champion from 1984, had captivated and mesmerised a global audience. His disqualification a day later for steroid abuse sent that same sports-loving world into a spin. Lewis was awarded the gold medal and Johnson left the Games in disgrace and was disqualified from competition, his record wiped from the books. During the Games, nine other athletes were disqualified from competitions after failing doping tests.

Johnson’s disqualification was, without question, the lowlight of 1988. It overshadowed many excellent achievements across the sports program. More than 8000 athletes from 160 nations set a new mark for participation at the Games. The program was expanded to include 237 events. Included among new sports and events were the debut of table tennis and the re-introduction of tennis after 64 years. 

Australia at these Games

Australia sent a team of 263 athletes, 189 men and 74 women to Seoul. It was the biggest team ever sent overseas to an Olympics, surpassed only by the team for Melbourne in 1956. It returned with 14 medals: three gold, five silver and six bronze.

 Hockey’s Ric Charlesworth, playing in his fourth Olympics, was chosen to carry the flag in the Opening Ceremony. He would later enjoy a successful career as coach of the Hockeyroos and Kookaburras - the women’s and men's national teams. The Hockeyroos, however, were busy establishing their own reputation in Seoul, winning their first gold medal, under the stewardship of coach Brian Glencross. Captain Debbie Bowman and LeeCapes scored in the 2-0 final win over Korea, played in front of a capacity crowd of host nation fans. It was the first gold medal in a women’s team sport event for Australia

The flagbearer for the Closing Ceremony was Debbie Flintoff-King, an honour worthy of her famous win in the 400m hurdles. In a dramatic finish, Flintoff-King beat the Soviet Union’s Tatiana Ledovskaya by 0.01 of a second, winning in 53.17 seconds, a new Olympic record.

The third gold was won by swimmer Duncan Armstrong, who produced an enormous performance to win the men’s 200m freestyle. He also won a silver medal in the 400m freestyle, just coming up short of completing a fantastic double. Julie McDonald was the only other swimmer to win a medal, placing third in the 800m freestyle.

While missing out on gold, Australia’s cyclists were the best performed squad in Seoul, collecting four medals. Lisa Martin won a brave silver medal in the women’s marathon. Australia celebrated the return of tennis to the Games with a bronze medal for the women’s doubles team of Wendy Turnbull and Liz Smylie. Grahame ‘Spike’ Cheney won a boxing silver medal in the light welterweight division.

Canoe/kayak provided Australia’s two other medals. Kayakers Peter Foster and Kelvin Graham won a bronze in the K2 1000m. In the K1 1000m, kayaker Grant Davies provided one of the most admired acts of sportsmanship in Games history. On crossing the line in the final, Davies was declared the winner, edging out American Greg Barton. But 10 minutes later, after Davies had signed the gold medal register and was preparing for the medal ceremony, officials informed him judges had reversed their decision and declared Barton the winner by 0.005 of a second – an absurd margin equal to two millimetres. But Davies accepted this result without complaint, telling reporters, “If that’s the biggest disappointment I’ll experience in my life, I’ve got no problems.” 

Elsewhere, archer Simon Fairweather and shotgun shooter Russell Mark both made their Olympic debuts. Each would later win rare gold medals in their sports for Australia.

Australian Olympians At The Games

Flag Bearers

Olympian Name Ceremony
Ric Charlesworth Opening
Debbie Flintoff-King Closing

History

After boycotts, financial blow-outs and tragic terrorist attacks at recent Games, the Olympics suffered another shocking blow at Seoul in 1988: the doping disqualification of Canada’s Ben Johnson after his victory in the men’s 100m sprint in the world record time of 9.79 seconds. Johnson’s triumph over fierce rival Carl Lewis, the American defending champion from 1984, had captivated and mesmerised a global audience. His disqualification a day later for steroid abuse sent that same sports-loving world into a spin. Lewis was awarded the gold medal and Johnson left the Games in disgrace and was disqualified from competition, his record wiped from the books. During the Games, nine other athletes were disqualified from competitions after failing doping tests.

Johnson’s disqualification was, without question, the lowlight of 1988. It overshadowed many excellent achievements across the sports program. More than 8000 athletes from 160 nations set a new mark for participation at the Games. The program was expanded to include 237 events. Included among new sports and events were the debut of table tennis and the re-introduction of tennis after 64 years. 

Seoul had many multi-medallists. In the pool, East German Kristin Otto won a record six gold medals, while American Matt Biondi became the only man other than Mark Spitz to win seven medals at a Games, finishing with five gold, one silver and one bronze. The pool welcomed a new kind of hero when Surinam’s Anthony Nesty surprised everyone to win the 100m butterfly. He was the first South American and first black athlete to win a swimming gold medal. American diver Greg Louganis scored an historic double when he defended both his 3m springboard and 10m platform Olympic crowns, despite hitting his head on the board during his 3m preliminaries.  

On the track, Florence Griffith-Joyner won three gold medals, setting world records in the 100m and 200m that still stand. Her other gold was in the 4x100m relay. Her sister-in-law, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, won gold in the heptathlon and long jump; she had won a heptathlon silver medal behind Australia’s Glynis Nunn in 1984. The Soviet Union’s Sergei Bubka won the men’s pole vault, setting a new Olympic record of 5.90m.

New Zealand’s Mark Todd won his second consecutive three-day eventing individual gold medal, stamping him as one of the greatest horsemen in history. China proved its class in the new sport of table tennis. German Steffi Graf won the women’s singles gold medal in tennis. Along with her Olympic win, she also won all four Grand Slam tournaments in 1988, an unparalleled achievement known as the Golden Slam. East German Christa Luding-Rothenburger, who earlier in the year won a speed skating gold medal at the Calgary Winter Olympics, became the first athlete to win Olympic and Winter Olympic medals in the same year when she won silver in the women’s track cycling sprint.

The Soviet Union was the leading nation with 55 gold medals, ahead of East Germany and the United States. Korea was fourth with 12 gold. In total, a record 52 nations won medals at the Games.

Games Trivia

Emblem

The Seoul emblem features a traditional Korean samtaeguk pattern. A samtaeguk is a visual image which represents Korea. The swirl depiction represents the people of the world coming together in Korea, symbolising worldwide harmony.

Motto

The motto of Seoul 1988 was "The Games of Peace".

Mascot

The official mascot for the 1988 Summer Olympic Games was the friendly tiger, Hodori. This reflected the hospitable traditions of the Korean people. Hodori's female version was called Hosuni.

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