"Harmony and progress" in the land of morning calm
Nineteen years ago, on 17 September 1988, a transformed South Korea displayed its splendour at the Opening Ceremony of the Games of the XXIV Olympiad in front of a billion spectators and television viewers. Seven years had passed since the election of Seoul as host city of the Games at the 84th IOC Session in Baden-Baden in 1981. At the same time as it prepared for the Games, the country found political stability after its turn towards democracy starting in 1987. The adoption of a new constitution and the election by universal suffrage of President Roh Tae-woo made this transformation materialise. “Harmony and Progress”, the slogan of the Korean edition, reflected this surge and characterised these Games based on bringing people together.
Mass participation revived
For political reasons, the three previous editions of the Games were boycotted and some countries did not attend: 92 National Olympic Committees (NOCs) were present in Montreal in 1976; 80 in Moscow in 1980 (the lowest number since Melbourne 1956); and 140 in Los Angeles in 1984. The Seoul Games were also boycotted – notably by North Korea – but less so. Participation reached 159 NOCs. The Koreans’ wish to see their Games as a real festival of humanity was granted. Since then, NOC participation in the Games has grown constantly, with 199 NOCs in Sydney in 2000 and 201 in Athens in 2004.
“Beyond All Barriers”
This was the slogan for the Opening Ceremony of the Seoul Games: barriers between peoples, ideological and economic barriers - some of the many obstacles on the road to harmony and progress. Between tradition and modernity, the scenes came one after the other, illustrating the theme of the barrier through many telling images.
At the opening of the ceremony, in order to bring the strength of water inside the stadium, thereby abolishing the concept of inside and outside, a nautical parade of 500 boats escorted by 160 windsurfs took to the Han river. When the Olympic flame-bearer, Soh Kee-chung, the winner of the marathon at the Berlin Games in 1936 under the name of Kitei Son, entered the stadium, the emotion was palpable. The 76-year-old veteran passed the flame to the 19-year-old runner Chun-ae Lim, triple gold medallist at the Asian Games in 1986. This handover symbolised a bridge between the old and new generations and between men and women. At the end of the ceremony, a group of young taekwondo athletes masterfully broke planks of wood, symbolising all barriers. They showed humanity’s ability to surpass barriers and find a way to come together. The Olympic Games could begin serenely.
And Beijing makes three
After Tokyo in 1964, the Seoul Games were the second Summer Olympic Games to take place on the Asian continent. They remain engraved in people’s memories both for the arrival of new sports and for their highlights: the joy of Steffi Graf winning the Olympic title in tennis, which made its comeback to the Games after 64 years of absence; the vault of Sergey Bubka, which was the highest one of all, and which made him Olympic champion in the pole vault; the consternation when Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson was disqualified for doping after the 100 metres, etc.
In less than one year, in Beijing, China, the Summer Olympic Games will return for the third time to Asian soil. There is no doubt that, at the heart of the Middle Kingdom, they will shine again in fireworks of emotion and sport.
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