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Backgrounder: Olympic Games Seoul 1988: Mixed feelings for China

Xinhua, July 28, 2016 Adjust font size:

Even though the Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson testing positive for steroids was the biggest scandal at the Olympic Games 1988 in Seoul, South Korea, the international sporting event also stood out for many outstanding performances, including beating 33 world records and equalling another five of them.

The Games of the 24th Olympiad, as its officially known, took place from Sept. 17 and Oct. 2 with 8,391 athletes participating (2,194 women) from 159 countries and regions in 237 events. There were also two demonstration sports - baseball and taekwondo.

The drugs tests became the main talking point of the Games since seven athletes were disqualified, including Ben Johnson. After winning his race with a new 9.79 seconds record in the 100 meters men's final, the Canadian was disqualified after testing positive for a banned steroid known as stanozolol. For that reason, his gold medal was handed over three days later to American Carl Lewis, meaning that Lewis had successfully defended his 1984 Olympic title afterall.

East German cyclist, Christa Luding-Rothenburger, who was also a speed skater, won a silver medal in cycling. Having already won two medals in the Winter Games, she became the only person in history to win winter and summer medals in the same year.

Tennis reappeared as an Olympic sport after being absent for 64 years and the sport was open to professionals. West Germany's Steffi Graf concluded her Grand Slam tennis season by taking home the gold after defeating Argentina's Gabriela Sabatini in the final. This win made Graf the only female tennis player to ever achieve the Golden Slam, a term that was coined thanks to her achievement.

Apart from these victories, Greg Louganis from the United States repeated his win in both diving competitions, despite hitting his head against the springboard in the three meter final.

In 1988, the Chinese delegation returned to the Olympics with mixed feelings. They showed great progress in some sports that were not considered to be their favorites, especially in swimming and rowing. However, they were unable to meet their expectations in the disciplines that were deemed to be their forte, such as gymnastics, weightlifting and women's volleyball.

In total, China won five gold medals, 11 silver and 12 bronze, which was far from satisfactory for the Asian giant. In comparison to the 1984 Games, the Chinese athletes did not have such an outstanding performance in Seoul because they faced much stronger opponents, including those who had not attended the sporting event in Los Angeles, due to a boycott led by former Soviet Union. Also, China's physical preparation was not the best.

He Zhuoqiang, gold medalist in the previous Games, was unable to lift what he had successfully lifted on several prior occasions. Star gymnast Li Ning, who won three golds in Los Angeles, had a disappointing performance due to several injuries.

The Chinese women's volleyball team, that had won the title over five consecutive occasions, lost for the first time to Peru and then to former Soviet Union. Xu Haifeng, who was the first person to win a gold medal for China in the 1984 edition, only came in fourth place in the men's shooting.

However, the good results China obtained in diving must not be missed out. Two young divers, Xu Yanmei and Gao Min, both won a gold medal for their excellent performances.

Li Qing and Xiong Ni, also very young, both won a silver medal in the women's three meter springboard and men's 10 meter platform, respectively.

Swimming tended to be China's weakest Olympic sport but a group of young swimmers put the country on the front page in Seoul. Among them were Yang Wenyi, 16, Zhuang Yong, 16 and Huang Xiaomin, 18. Each one of these swimmers won a silver medal in the 50m and 100m freestyle and the 200m breaststroke, respectively. Another promising swimmer, Qian Hong, 17, won a bronze medal in the 100m butterfly.

In table tennis which was included in this edition of the Games for the first time, China won the gold in two out of the four competitions. Chen Jing won the women's singles and Chen Longcan/Wei Quingguang were crowned in the men's doubles.

For China at the time, rowing was a "young sport" which was only practiced by a limited amount of people. However, their rowers surprised everyone after taking home a silver and a bronze medal in the women's coxed fours and the women's eights, respectively.

After 16 days of high-level competition, former Soviet Union topped the tally with 55 gold, 31 silver and 46 bronze medals, followed by East Germany and United States. South Korea took full advantage of their host position with 12-10-11, making it the highest-ranking Asian country in the medal table.



USSR 55 29 46 132

East Germany 37 35 30 102

U.S. 36 31 27 94

South Korea 12 10 11 33

West Germany 11 14 15 40

Hungary 11 6 6 23

Bulgaria 10 12 13 35

Romania 7 11 6 24

France 6 4 6 16

Italy 6 4 4 14 Enditem