OLYMPICS

THE GAMES BEGIN

A DYNAMIC AND POWERFUL SOUTH KOREA STAGES A HUGE PAGEANT TO OPEN THE SUMMER GAMES

HAL QUINN,CHRIS WOOD September 26 1988
OLYMPICS

THE GAMES BEGIN

A DYNAMIC AND POWERFUL SOUTH KOREA STAGES A HUGE PAGEANT TO OPEN THE SUMMER GAMES

HAL QUINN,CHRIS WOOD September 26 1988

THE GAMES BEGIN

OLYMPICS

A DYNAMIC AND POWERFUL SOUTH KOREA STAGES A HUGE PAGEANT TO OPEN THE SUMMER GAMES

It began with a dramatic flourish, as 160 Windsurfers led a flotilla of 458 boats, including a replica of an ancient Korean dragon drum ship, down the Han River, which bisects the city of Seoul. And it culminated with 1,600 modern dancers—all dressed in white— spelling the word “welcome” in English and Korean for a capacity crowd of 70,000 spectators in Seoul’s Olympic Stadium—and for an estimated one billion television viewers around the world. After years of planning, it was a flawless, weather-perfect opening ceremony for the XXIV Olympiad. More than 6,000 performers took part in the three-hour extravaganza last Saturday, which combined stunning choreography and captivating Korean music. Following the initial pageantry, the athletes themselves marched in record numbers of more than 9,600, representing an unprecedented 160 participating nations.

The parade of nations was led by Greece, birthplace of the ancient Olympics and site of the first modem Games in 1896. Canada’s 386member team, led by synchronized swimmer Carolyn Waldo carrying the Canadian flag, charmed the audience by tossing white Frisbees into the seats. While the spectators, who paid $240 to be there, applauded politely as the various national teams entered the stadium,

the arrival of the Olympic flame caused a thunderous ovation from the largely Korean audience. It was carried by 76-year-old Korean Sohn Kee-chung, who won the marathon at the 1936 Summer Olympics. But Sohn entered the record books as a Japanese, because at the time Korea was occupied by Japan.

While Sohn’s entry as a national hero—he jumped for joy shortly after entering the stadium—reflected both Korea’s emergence as an industrial power and its often-turbulent history, the heavy security throughout Seoul was a sobering reminder of more recent troubles. South Korea has recently undergone a violent transition from dictatorship to democracy and still remains officially at war with Communistruled North Korea. But in vibrant Seoul, a city of 10 million people, the opening of the Olympic Games was a moment to reflect on Korea’s economic miracle. And, in keeping with the Peace and Harmony motto of these Games, it was also an opportunity for sparkling idealism. Said Park Seh-jik, president of the Seoul Olympic Organizing Committee, in welcoming the world: “Vigorous competition will lead to harmony and friendship, and each member of the global family will receive the most precious of all gold medals, the gold reward of love and peace.”

Even before the Games began, the South Korean government was taking extraordinary precautions to prevent any disturbances or terrorist incidents. Military helicopters thundered overhead while 120,000 municipal policemen, backed by regular soldiers and antiterrorist troops, scrutinized motorists and pedestrians. At the Games sites, officers rolled mirrors under cars and trucks to check the undercarriages for explosives. In a bow to Western visitors, authorities imposed a 29-day jail sentence for people caught spitting on the street and tried to ban the sale of dog and snake meat, though vendors were still operating on back streets.

For Korea, a focus of world attention until the Games end on Oct. 2, the Olympics are an opportunity to show off. Said President Roh Tae-woo: “Our people have worked in a climate of instability and accomplished an economic miracle which has astonished the world. Now we are on the point of accomplishing a cultural miracle in organizing the most beautiful Olympics ever.”

For the estimated 250,000 foreign visitors, Seoul is presenting a dizzying array of sensations. Along the treelined downtown Itaewon Street, corner-to-corner shops and hawkers’ stalls are a consumer’s delight. Narrow side

streets abound with vendors—there are an estimated 15,000 in the city—who serve soups enlivened by the addition of a handful of wriggling sardine-like fish and sell pungent plates of fermented cabbage laced with garlic and cayenne. But in an attempt to portray a pristine image, police have banned the city’s kissaeng girls—who offer “relax-

ation” for just a few dollars—from their customary working places in most downtown barbershops.

One of the most anticipated events of the Games is the 100-m duel between Canada’s Ben Johnson and Carl Lewis of the United States on Sept. 23 (page 48). Prior to that, swimming events will likely capture most of the attention. Canada’s best prospect for a gold medal in swimming is 15-year-old Allison Higson of Brampton, Ont., who already holds the world record in the 200-m breaststroke. Last week, standing in the brilliant sunshine outside the 10,000-seat pool facility, Higson said that she was overwhelmed by her first Olympics. “There are too many people,” she said.

The spotlight during the track-andfield events will also strike U.S. 100-m specialist Florence Griffith-Joyner, known for her long fingernails and flashy outfits. As well, American Jacket ie Joyner-Kersee will seek to establish

0 her claim as best female athlete in the gruelling heptathlon. In addition to

1 Johnson and Higson, Canada’s medal 5 hopes will rest on the likes of synchro5 nized swimmer Waldo, swimmer Victor Davis in the 100-m breaststroke and 1988 World Cup horse-jumping

champion Ian Millar, riding the magnificent chestnut gelding Big Ben. The rest of the Canadian team, and the 9,000 other athletes who will not win a medal, can only hope to leave Seoul knowing—like the hosts—that they did their very best.

HAL QUINN and CHRIS WOOD in Seoul