The question was put by our translator to a South Korean monk in a 1,300-year-old Buddhist temple on a remote mountain overlooking the East Sea (more commonly known as the Sea of Japan): "What is your opinion of having the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul?" The monk blinked behind his glasses. He murmured and sighed. He was obviously reluctant to reply. At last he spoke, almost inaudibly. "Personally, I am not interested in the Olympic Games, whether they are in Seoul or not," he said. "But if the people who believe in Buddha wish for success in the Olympic Games, then he will help them. If it's all right with Buddha, it's all right with me."
The 1988 Summer Olympics were awarded to Seoul, the capital of the Republic of South Korea, during a September 1981 meeting of the International Olympic Committee—in the West German resort of Baden-Baden. The vote was overwhelming: 52 for Seoul, 27 for Nagoya, Japan, which was the only other competing city. Though Buddha may have known the result ahead of time, it came as a stunning surprise to almost everyone else.
Among the most amazed were the supremely confident representatives of Nagoya who had thrown what amounted to a victory banquet the night before the vote. Also among the surprised were IOC insiders, such as sports director Walther Tr√∂ger. Tr√∂ger said, "Everybody was aware of the fact that an Olympics in Seoul would present many problems, but since nobody believed Seoul would win, there was no opposition." Also taken aback were members of the South Korean delegation. Thomas Keller of Switzerland, a former Olympic rower who is president of the powerful General Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF), was a close advisor to the Koreans, and he recalls, "On the night before the IOC vote, I bet them that they would get the Games, but they didn't believe me. They didn't think it was a possibility." A member of the delegation said recently, "Even after the numbers were announced, we couldn't believe it for one long moment."
Perhaps most surprised of all were the 40.5 million citizens of South Korea. As K.C. Hwang, an Associated Press reporter in Seoul for 28 years, explains, "Most people assumed that the main idea was for Seoul to be a respectable runner-up. We thought the Olympic bid was intended to put us in a position to get the Asian Games in 1986. We thought it was all a gesture toward letting the sports world know that South Korea exists and wants to be taken seriously soon."
Surprised or not, the South Korean delegation left Baden-Baden committed to putting on the '88 Games. The Olympic facilities will cost $1.66 billion. These include 33 venues for competition, plus 69 training and support facilities. Another $1.35 billion will be spent on related projects such as public transportation, sanitation and communication improvements. Even if it is all right with Buddha, a $3 billion Olympics (compared with $500 million for the '84 L.A. Games) is a tremendous undertaking.
The Seoul Olympics are scheduled to run from Sept. 17 to Oct. 2, 1988. And, yes, that is a long way off. However, there already has been an enormous amount of concern over these Games. Most of the worry is the product of ignorance or demagoguery, or both. Yet it has caused so much confusion and doubt that it's not too soon to examine seriously how things stand regarding the Seoul Olympics specifically and how holding the Games in South Korea might affect the Olympic movement generally.
Two SPORTS ILLUSTRATED colleagues, Anita Verschoth and Jerry Cooke, and I visited South Korea in late September and early October, the time of year when the '88 Olympics will be held, and interviewed dozens of people in Seoul and in the hinterlands about the Games. The successful L.A. Olympics were still fresh in our minds. Though the blustery America-first exuberance of those Games was in questionable taste at times, it had injected a desperately needed shot of enthusiasm into the Olympic movement, which had seemed listless after the Soviets declared their boycott in May. The fact that the nonparticipation of the U.S.S.R. and 18 other countries had scarcely caused a small bruise on the body Olympic offered great hope for the future. Certainly, Seoul's prospects looked better than they would have if L.A. had been a flop.
The question our translator put to Ahn Byung Keun, 22, a burly judo player who had won one of South Korea's remarkable total of six gold medals in Los Angeles, was an obvious one: "Do you think the Games in Seoul will be as good as those in Los Angeles?" Ahn's large, angelic face took on a frown, and he scratched his cauliflowered left ear pensively. After a long pause, he said, "It will be more beautiful here. More beautiful and more sweet."
We asked the same question of Korea's first gold medal winner, Sohn Kee Chung, 72, who won the marathon at the 1936 Olympics in Hitler's Berlin. A wiry, smiling fellow, Sohn said jovially, "The U.S. is richest, so it is Number One in money. Russia has to be listed Number One for other things, which many of us do not care for. Korea will be Number One, I predict, in giving the best Olympics. I am, as you know, a Korean, and so you will have no problem understanding why I say this."
Some social historians have called Koreans the Irish of the Orient. Once we'd talked to a couple of dozen South Koreans, we understood the appropriateness of that analogy. Like Sohn, many were open and gregarious, candid and trenchant and given to humor. When we asked a young English-speaking woman in a Seoul antique store what major gain the Olympics might bring to South Korea, she said, her smile glistening, "It will wipe out the M*A*S*H image forever, I hope. For all the years M*A*S*H has been on American TV, it has shown Korea as a weak rabbit, war-beaten and weary. The Seoul Olympics will show everyone that we have tigers inhabiting Korea, too."
There is also a subtle sense of bitterness and sadness among these people whose country, like Ireland, carries a heavy historical burden. An old man we spoke to on a street in Seoul reminded us, apropos of nothing, that in Korean, birds and bells always cry rather than sing or ring. When we asked our translator, Hwang Kee Hak, 29, a bright and outspoken fellow, how his countrymen could forgive the Soviets and invite them to the Seoul Olympics after they'd shot down Korean Airlines Flight 007, he said philosophically, "If the Korean people remembered all of the atrocities visited on us in the past, we would be crazy mad at almost everybody in the world. KAL 007 is just another spot on the history of Korea. We can overlook it, just as we must overlook the other terrible things that happened to us over 5,000 years."
Korea's history, indeed, has been one of strife and grief and hard times. The word Choson, the Korean name for their country, means Land of the Morning Calm. Yet for 5,000 years, an uncommon number of Korean mornings have dawned on scenes of war, riot and assassination. Korea was known as the Hermit Kingdom until just after 1900, and much of the violence there was the result of home-grown hostilities among warring tribes and feuding lords. However, Korea kept to itself during those centuries and produced a unique character and culture, including a language that's printed in a 24-character alphabet, which was invented by King Sejong and a group of scholars in 1446 A.D. It is admired by linguists as one of the most logical of alphabets and is celebrated annually by Koreans on a national holiday called Hangul (alphabet) Day.
The influence and interference of foreign powers—mostly from mighty China and expansionist Japan—also have left indelible marks on Korea. It has been used as a pawn in the power plays of stronger nations so many times that the most commonly repeated Korean proverb is: "When whales fight, it is the shrimp that get hurt."
However fiercely the whales may have fought over Korea in the past, one of its worst centuries so far is the one we're in now. The Sino-Japanese War came to a bloody end in the 1890s when Japan routed a weak Chinese army that had occupied Korea and installed a cabinet to run the country. Korean patriots despised the Japanese, and a group of them turned for help to Russia, not as a friend precisely, but to counterbalance Japan's aggression. After a time of confusion and conspiracy, a brief and uneasy truce between Japan and Russia was reached. Korea was allowed to live in nominal independence for a little while. Then, in February 1904, the Japanese launched a surprise attack on the Russian fleet at Port Arthur on China's Liaotung peninsula. This triggered the Russo-Japanese war, in which Korea quickly tried to declare itself neutral. No such luck. The Japanese rolled across the peninsula. When Russia surrendered in September 1905, Japan declared that its forces must continue to occupy Korea to preserve its independence.
In 1910, this deceit was dropped when Japan annexed Korea as a colony, an act that erased a sovereign nation from the world map. There was no global protest over this territorial grab, because the other "civilized" nations viewed the Japanese as more sophisticated than the poor, backward hermits of Korea and believed that the Japanese occupation would help bring these ignorant wretches into the 20th century. What followed has been described by some Koreans as an attempt at "cultural genocide." Systematically and unswervingly, the Japanese set out to erase all things Korean.
For example, in the 1936 Olympics, Sohn won his gold medal as a member of the Japanese team. Another Korean, Nam Seung Yong, won the bronze medal in that race. However, both runners were listed as Japanese—and they still are in the record books. Looking back, Sohn says, "I was a man without a country. And under those conditions, a man cannot really be a man. You cannot know how terrible this feeling is until it has actually happened to you."
By 1937 the Korean language—and its beloved alphabet—had been replaced in schools and public places by Japanese. Korean history was no longer taught. Koreans had to adopt Japanese names. The Japanese took an estimated 1.5 million Koreans and turned them into forced laborers during World War II. The killing of Korea was well underway, and if the Japanese hadn't lost the war, the disappearance of a way of life would have been inevitable.
Understandably, Koreans went wild with joy on V-J Day. They were free now, independent, ready to take their place among nations once more. Ah, but the whales were at it again.
The U.S.S.R. had entered the war against the Japanese a mere six days before their surrender. At the time, the U.S. settled on a plan whereby the U.S.S.R. would supervise the Japanese surrender in the north of Korea, while the U.S. would be responsible for the Japanese surrender in the south. Hurriedly the U.S. suggested the 38th parallel as an arbitrary line cutting Korea roughly in two and to America's great surprise, the Soviets agreed.
The original plan had been that the two powers would occupy Korea jointly, with Soviet and American forces mixed together throughout the country. But once the Soviet Army had dug in at the 38th parallel it refused to disperse, and another dark period in Korea's long, sad history began.
Soviet troops departed the north in late 1948, leaving behind a strong Communist government, and a well equipped army. In contrast, the U.S. had refused to provide the Republic of Korea in the south with arms beyond those required for "self-defense," and Secretary of State Dean Acheson had let it be known in early 1950 that South Korea was considered outside the U.S.'s sphere of defense in Asia. The North Koreans couldn't resist the temptation, and on June 25, 1950, they sent troops streaming over the 38th parallel. The Soviets apparently were as surprised as anyone by the timing of the attack, but the U.S. assumed that the Soviets had instigated the assault. So American troops, and those of 16 other nations, went into battle under the flag of a United Nations truce-keeping force. Major campaigns raged back and forth over much of South Korea, ravaging the land. In three years Seoul changed hands four times and was devastated by saturation artillery barrages and bombing.
Although Seoul, which means "capital" in Korean, had been the country's seat of government since 1392, it had never become much more than a semi-medieval hick town. When the Japanese annexed Korea in 1910, Seoul was a walled town with fewer than 100,000 inhabitants. By the end of World War II there were still fewer than a million people living there, though the Japanese had somewhat modernized the city.
The Korean war had reduced most of Seoul to smoking rubble by the time a truce was finally signed on July 27, 1953. At that time, visualizing a $3 billion Olympic spectacular set among those ruins was something no sane man could have done.
Choi Sang Ho, 29, is the golf pro at lovely old Hanyang Country Club outside Seoul. He says, "The Olympics will surprise most people in the world because they have seen very little of Korea since pictures of war were sent everywhere. It will be quite a surprise."
Today Seoul has more than 10 million inhabitants, making it the sixth-largest metropolitan area on earth, according to a Rand McNally estimate. It has risen from its own ashes to become a miracle of economic power. Downtown Seoul is a wonderland of glass-and-steel-and-stone skyscrapers. It's filled with whizzing traffic that travels on vast spaghetti-tangles of superhighways. The city has mountains all around, and pollution can turn the air tan by afternoon. The ground fairly shudders with the pounding pursuit of prosperity. Seoul is, above all, busy; it's a supercharged boomtown, 1980s style. No gold rush, no oil wells, no land rush. Just hard-headed, hard-driving business powered by a large labor force of hard-working, intelligent, optimistic workers who are willing to give their all for $2 or $3 an hour.
The economic growth rate bounded ahead at an average of 10% per annum during the 1970s. It continued to rise in '83 at the rate of 9.2%. The GNP, $75 billion in '83, should top $100 billion by 1990. Buddha only knows what grand multiples it will reach in the 21st century. For the business of Korea is business—perhaps even more than it was in the U.S. of the Roaring Twenties.
On the coast of the East Sea at exactly the point where the fresh water of the Taehwa River mixes with the ocean brine, a special kind of seaweed thrives. A woman stood up to her shoulders in the water, harvesting this valuable delicacy. In response to the question, shouted from the shore, of how the 1988 Games might affect the economics of seaweed, she yelled back, "The Olympics should bring money to Korea. That should put up the standard of living. And that should be good for seaweed sales, don't you think?" Later, on Cheju-do, the island far in the south in the channel between Korea and Japan, a woman diver, one of a vanishing breed that swims the ocean depths in search of abalone and other shellfish, was asked about the economic effects of the Games. Though the metallic dazzle of her smile never faded, she wasn't optimistic: "Western people will visit here because of the Olympics, but they have had no experience with raw fish. I don't think my business will be changed. Raw fish is a special taste, and no Olympics can make people like it."
On the bright and windy afternoon of Sept. 29, a chattering, delighted crowd of 70,000 gathered to share in a sweet modern miracle in Seoul—the dedication of the beautiful new $57 million Olympic Stadium, which was finished a full four years before the Games. It's an elegant piece of architecture, designed in the delicate shape of a porcelain that was common during the Yi Dynasty. The stadium's first crowd nearly filled the lovely cup to the brim and watched a festival of folk dancing, marching military bands and martial arts demonstrations on the infield, and then listened as IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch praised the "magnificent Olympic Stadium" and called the sports facilities among the finest in the world.
The stadium is only one of the numerous Olympic facilities that are already finished. The Koreans began a sports building program in the late 1970s—originally intending only to accommodate the new leisure needs of the nation's increasingly prosperous population. Construction has never stopped. Of the 33 venues required for the Olympics, 17 are ready now. The other 16 are under construction. The stadium sits in a 270-acre open park filled with flower beds and newly planted ginkgo trees—plus two gymnasiums, a swimming hall and another 50,000-seat stadium, for baseball. Each is an architectural gem. Major facilities still unfinished will be completed by 1986—for sure—because Seoul is going to host the Asian Games, a complex little spectacle that will serve very nicely as a full-dress rehearsal for the Olympics.
So with all the Olympic wonders already wrought in Seoul and given the enthusiasm and optimism of Korea's citizens, one might wonder why there has been so much controversy over the 1988 Games. The reason is politics—violent politics. For many people, any mention of South Korea brings to mind visions of riot, assassination, chaos. The past 30-odd years have seen all of the above in goodly measure in South Korea. In fact, the past five years have seen them all. There is, even now, political repression under the military-backed regime of former general Chun Doo Hwan. And a deep nationwide anxiety exists over possible acts of terrorism and sabotage by North Korean agents—such as the October 1983 bombing in Rangoon, Burma, in which 17 South Koreans, most of them high government officials, were assassinated by North Korean agents.
These are troubling conditions, to say the least. But perhaps an even more serious concern when one considers having the Games in Seoul is that there are 44 Olympic nations with whom South Korea has no formal diplomatic relations. This takes in all the socialist bloc countries, including not only the Soviet Union, East Germany and Cuba but also South Korea's increasingly good neighbor, the People's Republic of China, and the nice guy of Eastern Europe, Yugoslavia. Just because a country doesn't have formal relations with South Korea doesn't mean it's predisposed not to participate in the Games. China, for example, has already promised to attend. But South Korea's lack of relations with the socialist bloc doesn't exactly augur well for a tranquil Olympics.
Given these rather nasty facts, it's not surprising that there was—and is—skepticism regarding Seoul as an Olympic host. Oddly enough, one of the sources of optimism that the Koreans can nonetheless pull off the Games was—believe it or not—The Miss Universe Pageant of 1980. It's a pretty convoluted connection, but here's how it worked:
On Oct. 26, 1979, General Park Chung Hee, the president of South Korea for more than 18 years, was murdered by his own chief of intelligence. Park had been a classic strong-arm ruler. He'd ridden to power in '61 on the cold steel treads of a military coup and then held on to it through a combination of force, relentless repression of political opponents, emergency decrees when dissent grew too loud and several propitious rewritings of the national constitution to allow himself longer and longer terms in office with virtually absolute power. Park's reign was always tough and sometimes cruel, but he also masterminded South Korea's economic growth in the 1960s and '70s. He'd trained in Japanese military academies as a youth and served in Japan's army during World War II. Later, he'd watched with admiration in the '50s and '60s as Japan transformed itself from a defeated and disgraced nation into one of the world's economic powers. When Park became president of South Korea, his strongest desire was to copy the Japanese economic miracle. He had come very close to succeeding before he was killed.
In the wake of his assassination, South Korea was plunged into chaos and rioting. Military force was apparent everywhere. A new president was inaugurated in December 1979. But suddenly it was revealed by Major General Chun, then head of the defense security command, that the plot to murder Park had been hatched by a number of high-ranking military officers, who subsequently were arrested. This shake-up in the military establishment, which had been the symbol of stability, created more uneasiness in South Korea. Rioting reached a violent peak in May of '80 and continued sporadically into the summer, when—did you forget?—The Miss Universe Pageant was to be held in Seoul from June 28 to July 8.
Most of the 69 contestants were scared. Some refused to visit Seoul at all until their embassies there promised they would see to the contestants' safety. It all went swimmingly—including a five-mile parade with 35 flower-bedecked floats carrying the beauty queens through the streets. The parade route was patrolled by hundreds of grim, gun-packing plainclothes security agents. Still, some 300,000 spectators turned out to watch, and the 4,000-seat city center auditorium was sold out for the contest. More significant, a worldwide television feed sent all of this out to millions of viewers. Oh Do Wang, editor of South Korea's daily sports and entertainment newspaper, says, "It had not been a year since President Park was murdered, yet here were all these happy bathing beauties enjoying themselves in Seoul. TV showed them everywhere, and it changed our image on the spot. Miss Universe gave us the momentum to move on to our next big spectacular—the Olympics."
In Kyongju, an ancient provincial capital 230 miles southeast of Seoul, there's a large burial park of royal tombs. Each tomb is a great earthen dome two or three stories high; inside lie the mummified corpses of kings and queens dead a thousand years or more. The grass that grows thickly on the tombs is as carefully manicured as any golf course green, by women wielding small scythes and rakes. Asked what she thought of the Seoul Olympics, one of the tomb keepers said thoughtfully, "It's a great honor, but sometimes I wonder if it's too great an honor for Korea to manage well."
In September 1979, barely five weeks before his assassination, President Park appointed a committee to come up with a plan for Seoul to bid for the 1988 Olympics. As Park well knew, Tokyo had hosted the 1964 Games, and in many people's minds it was with the Olympics that the world recognized Japan as a major economic and political force again. Park picked as the Korean National Olympic Committee vice-chairman Cho Sang Ho, 58, a smart, energetic diplomat who speaks English, Italian and Japanese and had served as ambassador to Italy for four years. Cho, now secretary-general of the Seoul Olympic Organizing Committee (SLOOC), says, "There was tragedy and confusion all around when President Park was killed, and we were anxious as to whether the Olympic project could proceed without him. We decided we should stick to the decision to go ahead because we had already announced our intentions to the world."
Despite a wobbly government through early 1980, South Korea's pursuit of the Olympics went on. Then, in the summer of that year, Chun suddenly took power. As tough, repressive and dependent on military power as Park, Chun was also every bit as committed to bringing an Olympics to South Korea. Thus, the ambitious building program for new sports facilities continued, and Cho peddled Seoul harder than ever before. "I traveled everywhere, talked to every IOC member I could find," he recalls. "I argued that the Olympics would be a genuine help to peace in our region. I emphasized that, yes, South Korea was controversial but that this only made it a better place to prove the peaceful value of the Olympic movement. I preached also the universality of the Olympics and argued that Japan had already hosted the Olympics and for them to have it again [in Nagoya] would do the movement no good."
Did these points secure the Games for Seoul? Certainly not by themselves. The IOC is a polyglot of aristocrats, Iron Curtain functionaries, aging coupon clippers and Third World climbers. There are 91 members, each a considerable ego unto himself, each ineffably human in his individual foibles and failings. The word bribery has been used to explain the IOC's surprising decision to choose Seoul over Nagoya. It has been said that the Koreans laid on an assortment of fun and favors for IOC members—first-class trips to Korea, where they enjoyed lovely food, hotels, women, etc. IOC insiders say that, yes, there was quite a bit of entertaining done by the Koreans, but that it was neither excessive nor extraordinary and that it almost certainly had no significant effect on the voting.
There was another—and more effective—kind of bribery helping the South Korean cause, though it, too, probably wasn't decisive. This came from European manufacturers of shoes, timing devices and other athletic equipment. With only Seoul and Nagoya in the competition, these Europeans knew that should Nagoya get the Olympics, then Japanese companies would have a lock on the valuable commercial sponsorships of the Games (such as sportswear and equipment). Thus, these manufacturers spread largesse widely in the hope of influencing IOC members to vote for Seoul. Oh, the South Korean sports editor says, "They worked very hard to buy Third World votes, and I think they got many of them. I have been told that even some East European votes were also bought." Fekrou Kidane, editor-in-chief of the Paris-based magazine Continental Sports and an expert on political goings-on in the IOC, was asked about this, and he replied sharply, "Of course they have been bribed. Where have you been? It is normal procedure."
Yet, the size of Seoul's winning vote would indicate that even the generosity of the equipment companies wasn't in itself that critical. Among other factors that helped: 1) the arrogance of the Nagoya group, which acted as if it had no competition; 2) a protest demonstration by a small group of environmentalists from Nagoya, who threatened to disrupt any Olympic preparations their city might undertake; 3) a solid bloc of Third World votes, not because of bribes but because some developing nations consider South Korea a Third World colleague and wanted to stick it to superpower Japan; and 4) a superior presentation by Cho, who had rehearsed questions and answers for hours in a hotel room with Keller, who probably knew as much about how each IOC member would react as the member himself did.
All those things made a difference, but the No. 1 factor in Seoul's favor during the Baden-Baden vote was more direct, more logical: The South Koreans had a great many of their Olympic facilities completed or close to completion, while Nagoya had only models and drawings and blueprints. As Cho says, "Nagoya was completely on paper, but we existed! That's why we won."
A young woman university student, sipping wine with friends in a dim, cozy restaurant in Kyongju, told us, "When I first heard that Seoul had won over Nagoya, I felt great pride, but after the excitement died down, I began worrying about the problems. It is very early for us to do something this big. The dice are cast and we have no choice but to do it, but there are problems. Political problems...."
President Chun himself represents one of the more explosive political questions that could adversely affect the Olympics. He came to power under martial law and never has won office in a general election. However, after rewriting the constitution to give himself a seven-year term in office, he promised he'd step down—for sure—when that term is up. Many Koreans don't believe Chun, and if he confirms their doubts by trying to hold on to the presidency, civil disturbances and harsh military response are likely. Unfortunately, the date on which Chun has promised to leave office is March 2, 1988—six months before the Olympics are scheduled to begin.
David Fitzgerald, a spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Seoul, says, "Chun's handling of that situation in 1987 and 1988 creates a big question mark in regard to the Olympics. There has been acceptance of his presidency by more and more people. But there's a fairly thin membrane holding things together here. Violent eruptions occur pretty regularly, and not too many Koreans stand up strongly for the government yet. The people are very much behind the Olympics, however. It's seen as a great prize. But they are also waiting—cynically, I think—to see if Chun keeps his promise. If he tries to force himself on them for another term—well, this is a volatile country."
So much for domestic politics. What about international politics? It's no surprise that the Soviet Union is fulminating about Seoul. That means nothing now. The Soviet bloc boycott of the Los Angeles Games, like the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Olympics, was a feckless, boring cold-war tactic that produced nothing of value. It's hard to see how another boycott in 1988 would produce any political advantage for the Soviets. Despite the absence of diplomatic relations, it would seem that the socialist athletes will be in Seoul—in force.
The wild card—the very wild card—in the international political deck, however, is North Korea. Relations between the sundered parts of the ancient Korean nation have been relentlessly hostile. The demilitarized zone between them is a barren no-man's-land bristling with military hardware and symbolizing the enmity that has grown as a result of the capricious territory splitting almost 40 years ago. In South Korea the fear of sabotage and infiltrators is rampant. Throughout the country banners stretch across streets urging locals to call the police if they notice strangers in their midst. On the lovely beaches along South Korea's magnificent east coast, large sections of sand are raked regularly by soldiers so that footprints of North Korean bad guys trying to sneak ashore from boats will be instantly visible.
Recently there have been signs of some softening in the hard-edged hostility: newly begun trade talks, help for South Korean flood victims offered by the North Korean Red Cross, suggestions that the two countries field a united Olympic team. There were even reports in October that the two Koreas were going to share the Olympics by moving some of the events from south to north.
Unfortunately, this notion had its genesis in a misinterpreted joke told by an English-speaking South Korean diplomat to a group of Italian journalists whose English was iffy at best. They had asked whether there was any way North Korea might help with the Olympics, and the South Korean cracked wryly that, yes, some people had been thinking of running the marathon out of North Korea, through the DMZ and on into Seoul. That facetious suggestion was taken quite seriously by some Italian publications and the story spread around the world. At a November meeting of national Olympic committees in Mexico City, Roh Tae Woo, president of the SLOOC, was asked about the idea of sharing Olympic facilities with North Korea. He replied curtly, "I know nothing of this." The president of the North Korean Olympic Committee, Kim Yu Sun, was rather more benign in his remarks. "We would like to be taken into consideration," he said. "I would like to say that the position of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea would be to help ensure the success of the Olympic Games in 1988."
They call her the Last Princess. This is because the Korean royal line was broken in 1910 at the time of the Japanese annexation. Her name is Yi Pangja. At 83, she lives in Seoul in the Ch'angdok Palace and receives an annual government stipend. She was born in Tokyo and in 1920 married the Korean prince, Yi Un, who died in 1970. Her son is an MIT-educated architect who now lives in Japan, so she's the last resident royal link with the Yi Dynasty, which flourished for more than 500 years, beginning in 1392, when Korea was the Hermit Kingdom. A gentle, dignified woman who speaks English with a regal delivery, Princess Yi said of the Seoul Olympics, "Everything in the city will be lovely, with flowers and flags and pleasant exchanges among all the people who come. People will see Korea differently then. People will see it as a beautiful place, more beautiful than they ever imagined it to be."
Samaranch said during those November meetings in Mexico City, "To be a leader in the Olympic movement, one must be always optimistic." As things stand now, there's sound reason for optimism about the Games of Seoul. Never has advanced preparation of new facilities been more impressive, nor has a nation been more joyous over the prospect of holding the Games. Indeed, one comes away from South Korea with the conviction that having a fine Olympics in Seoul is not just all right with Buddha—it's something he's positively insisting upon.