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24th Olympic Games: Seoul 1988
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Date: 17 September - 02 October 1988
NOCs (Nations): 159
Athletes: 8,391 (2,194 women, 6,197 men)
Sports: 25
Events: 237
Volunteers: 27,221
Media: 11,331 (4,978 written press, 6,353 broadcasters)

Although the drug disqualification of sprinter Ben Johnson was the biggest story of the 1988 Olympics, the Seoul Games were highlighted by numerous exceptional performances. Christa Luding-Rothenburger, who was also a speed skater, earned a silver medal in cycling to become the only person in history to win Winter and Summer medals in the same year. Steffi Graf concluded her Grand Slam tennis season by winning Olympic gold. Greg Louganis repeated victories in both diving events. Florence Griffith-Joyner dominated the sprints. For the first time, all the medalists in dressage were women.

In 1988, the Chinese Olympians came back home from the Seoul Olympics with mingled feelings. While failing to live up to expectations in some of their strong events such as gymnastics, weightlifting and women's volleyball, they made significant breakthroughs in a few areas where they had long remained in oblivion, notably in swimming and rowing. Their medal tally, though less than what it was in Los Angeles four years before, represented no mean effort considering the unprecedentedly high standard of performance attained by the Seoul Games.

The 24th Olympic Summer Games held on September 17-October 2 attracted some 10,000 athletes from 160 countries and regions, with 237 gold medals awarded in 23 sports. The standard was so high that world and Olympic records tumbled one after another. In total, world records were broken 33 times and equalled five times, and Olympic records were shattered 227 times and equalled 42 times.

After 16 days of high-level competition, the Soviet Union ruled the roost, bagging 55 golds, 31 silvers and 46 bronzes, followed by the German Democratic Republic (37, 35, 30) and the United States (37, 31, 27). South Korea, taking full advantage of its position as the host, won 12 golds, 10 silvers and 11 bronzes to rank first in Asia and fourth on the world list.

For China, the results of five golds, 11 silvers and 12 bronzes were far from satisfactory. Compared with their performance at the 23rd Olympics, the Chinese athletes did not do so well in Seoul as they faced many more strong rivals, including those who did not show up in Los Angeles. Another reason why they failed was that they showed poor psychological preparation which did not stand them in good stead in high-calibre world competitions. However, the results basically reflected China's actual strength in competitive sports. It was only the second time for it to send its full-fledged delegation to the Olympics and its contingent was still young and inexperienced compared with most of the world sporting powers.

He Zhuoqiang, a gold medallist at the previous Olympic Games, failed to lift a weight he had successfully lifted several times before. Ace gymnast Li Ning, who had won three golds in Los Angeles, turned in a disappointing performance due to injuries. But it was a small comfort that Lou Yun took a gold in the men's vaulting horse. The women's volleyball team, which had captured the world title on five occasions in succession, first lost to the Peruvians and then suffered a dismal defeat at the hands of the Soviets. Sharpshooter Xu Haifeng who won the first gold medal in the '84 Olympics placed third in the men's air pistol. Jiang Jialiang, world champion in men's table tennis, even failed to make the semifinals.

Nevertheless, the bright side should not be overlooked. Two teenager divers, Xu Yanmei and Gao Min, brought home a gold medal each for their brilliant performances in the women's platform and springboard events respectively. Li Qing and Xiong Ni, also teenagers, collected a silver each in the women's springboard and the men's platform respectively. Their successes, plus the silver and bronze medals taken by Tan Liangde and Li Deliang in the men's springboard, filled a shining page in China's diving history.

Swimming used to be a weak sport for China, but a number of young Chinese swimmers came to the fore in Seoul, including Yang Wenyi (16 years old), Zhuang Yong (16) and Huang Xiaomin (18) , who succeeded in getting a silver each in the women's 50m freestyle, 100m freestyle and 200m breaststroke respectively. Qian Hong (17), another promising swimmer, earned a bronze in the women's 100m butterfly. Their heartening achievements helped open a new era in China's swimming history.

In table tennis, a national sport in China, though the players were not in good form, they still managed to win gold in two of the four events contested, namely Chen Jing in the women's singles and Chen Longcan/Wei Qingguang in the men's doubles.

Chinese women rowers sprang a surprise by taking a silver and a bronze in the coxed fours and coxed eights respectively. This was heart-warming news indeed, for rowing was a young sport taken up by only a limited number of people in the country. The news that woman shot-putter Li Meisu gained a bronze -- the only track and field medal for Asia at the Games -- was also heartening.

(COC Website   July 8, 2004)

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