There was much to appreciate in the morning calm of the Seoul Olympics: the smiling hospitality of the Korean people; the splendid architecture of the various arenas; the easy accessibility of the venues; the beautiful weather.
But by the figurative noontime of the Games, clouds had rolled in. There was the disqualification of Ben Johnson (page 20) and the ugly boxing incident (page 48). The track and field competition at Olympic Stadium was usually a scene of constant chaos, the athletes often unable to properly warm up because the area was crowded with officials and security men. Then there were those empty seats, both in Seoul and before TV sets in the U.S. Three-quarters of all tickets had been sold, but some events were so sparsely attended that children were invited to fill the seats. Only 131,000 of the expected 250,000 foreign spectators had shown up. No Olympics is perfect. Munich was left with a tragedy, Montreal with an enormous debt, Moscow and Los Angeles with thoughts of what might have been. While acknowledging the no-show problem, Michèle Verdier, the director of information for the International Olympic Committee, said, "Until now, we feel these Games have been successful. The performances have been spectacular."
As Korea celebrated Chusok, its Thanksgiving Day, on Sunday, we could also be grateful that almost every country was here, enjoying the culture and the camaraderie and the sports. But the Johnson incident left a very bitter aftertaste, and there were fears that the drug scandals thus far were but the tip of the iceberg.
October 2, 1988
The South Koreans had trouble putting fannies in the seats in more ways than one. They apparently didn't take into consideration the size of Western cabooses; then again, most of the visitors would be leaving after two weeks anyway. For instance, the molded plastic seats in Chamshil Gymnasium, the basketball venue, measured only 14 inches across, a size that American basketball fans would not take sitting down. The seats in New York's Madison Square Garden range from 16 to 18 inches across, and they're thought to be small. Architectural Graphic Standards, considered the bible for American architects, recommends that auditorium seats be 18- to 24-inches wide, with 21 the ideal.
Jeff Crane, a 6-foot, 175-pound U.S. Navy lieutenant commander, found the seats a tight fit while watching the U.S. basketball team squeeze by Egypt 102-35. Crane, sitting with his wife, Nancy, and his 10-year-old son, Joshua, said, "If you think these are bad, you should have sat with us at taekwondo [in Changchung Gymnasium], where we were practically in each other's laps." But Crane did find a silver lining in his discomfort. "Actually, these seats have brought me and my family closer together."
A VISIT WITH TIRIAC
Even though West German tennis star Boris Becker withdrew from the Olympic tennis tournament, his manager, Ion Tiriac, has been a ubiquitous presence in Seoul. SI's Robert Sullivan caught up with Tiriac at the U.S.-Yugoslavia water polo match and asked him his reasons for being at the Games.
"I love the Olympics," he said. "I have a 30-year friendship with [IOC president] Juan Antonio Samaranch, and I am here as his guest. I attended the Games in Calgary, and I expect to be in Barcelona. Did you know I was once an Olympian?"
Because tennis—the sport for which Tiriac is known—wasn't an official Olympic competition from 1924 until this year, this came as something of a revelation. "It's true," said Tiriac. "I was a defenseman on the '64 Romanian ice hockey team."
Tiriac said that he was having a wonderful time in Seoul. "In five minutes I go to watch the swimming," he said. "This afternoon to the horses, the equestrians. I expect to see it all."
He then offered a scrap of philosophy as unmistakably Tiriac as his fearsome mustache. "You know, I think the millionaire tennis players are the only amateurs here. Steffi Graf wins this, and she doesn't earn a dime more. Same for Stefan Edberg. They have their endorsements and money already. They are on a vacation from capitalism, and they want only the medal. But all the others, at least part of the reason they want to win is so that they can market themselves, make some money, do some economics. The rich tennis players are the true amateurs. It's strange."
The elaborate Olympic medals given out in Seoul were quite beautiful, but they had one shortcoming: Each was attached to a ribbon by a coupling that could be screwed on or off. So in the natural turn of events, the medals would actually unscrew themselves as athletes wearing them walked about. Said Seth Bauer, coxswain for the bronze medal winning U.S. men's eights: "All day long I heard these clunks, and I'd turn around to see a rower picking up his medal."
The Bulgarian weightlifting team pulled out of the Olympics last Saturday, shortly after Angel Guenchev, a competitor in the 148-pound class, was stripped of his gold medal for testing positive for a banned diuretic that is often taken to mask the use of anabolic steroids. Two days earlier another Bulgarian, Mitko Grablev (123-pound class) had lost his gold medal for the same reason. In a prepared statement, the head of the Bulgarian weightlifting team said, "We reconfirm our firm stand against the use of forbidden substances by the athletes, which goes counter to the rules of fair competition and denounce the weightlifters' act."
Some insiders felt that the Bulgarians, who had won four of the five completed weight classes and were favored in the five still to be decided, were caught off guard by the sophistication of the drug testing in Seoul and that they withdrew to avoid further embarrassment. Two other lifters, a Hungarian and a Spaniard, were disqualified after testing positive for, respectively, a steroid and an amphetamine.
Richard Pound of Canada, an International Olympic Committee (IOC) vice-president—later to find himself in a very sticky national situation because of the Ben Johnson disqualification—had suggested that weightlifting be banned from the Games until the sport cleanses itself. And he planned to propose just that at the next IOC executive board meeting in December. "I think the drug use in weightlifting is so rampant it is really bad for the Olympics," Pound said. "It carries over and taints all other sports with the same bad image. We should maybe give them an eight-to-12-year ban and say, 'You'll be welcome back once you have cleaned up your act.' "
An outright ban seems radical, but clearly something has to be done. At the very least, Pound's proposal—coming from the man widely considered to be the second most powerful man in the IOC—might scare some sense into weightlifting officials. When Gottfried Sch‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√ádl, the president of the International Weightlifting Federation, was told of Pound's suggestion, he said angrily: "If Mr. Pound thinks we should be out of the Olympics, tell him to tell it to me in the face, not to a journalist."
Sch‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√ádl should save some of his outrage for the cheating that is ruining his sport.
Perhaps the most aptly named athlete at the Olympics is the Soviet weight-lifter who was awarded the gold medal after Grablev was disqualified: Oxen Mirzoian.
Iraqi and Italian soccer players were surprised and delighted to find they had cheering sections at their match last week in Seoul's Dongdaemon Stadium. The fans, carrying banners and tooting horns, were employees of Hyundai Group, one of the big South Korean business groups to organize Olympic cheering sections in hope of improving trade relations with countries in which they do business or in which they want to do business.
The cheerleading was voluntary, although Hyundai did provide its employees with the tickets, lunch and transportation. Hyundai workers have also shown up to cheer on athletes from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Australia, India, Japan, Italy, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Nepal and the U.S. Also cheering for the U.S. were employees of Daewoo, a maker of automobiles and electronic goods. Daewoo workers spent a month practicing the cheer "U-S-A, fight team!" and a card stunt depicting the American flag.
Some cheering has been spontaneous—just a bit of Korean good will. A group of students from a local middle school, for example, began rooting for the Brazilian men's basketball team against the U.S. to counter the overwhelmingly American support. The only problem was that they answered each chant of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" with their own "B-R-A! B-R-A!"
CHARLES THE HOG
Who will be the Eddie (the Eagle) Edwards of these Summer Games? One candidate is Australian weightlifter Charles Garzarella, a 319-pounder who competes in the over-242-pound category. Garzarella has a personal best of 832 pounds in the snatch and clean and jerk, which is some 210 pounds less than the world record, but his real claim to fame is that he can down a large pizza in a minute and a half.
THEY SAID IT
•Jay Barrs, U.S. archer, on his former eating habits: "I used to go with the three basic food groups—McDonald's, Wendy's and Burger King."
•Billy Masse, outfielder on the U.S. baseball team, on his biggest Olympic thrill: "I picked up a Rolex for $30."