Two of the most startling performances in all the Games came in the European-dominated sport of team handball, which found itself overrun by a Korean revolution. Team handball is essentially dry-land water polo, and until last week it had placed a premium on experience, power and size. Then two teams of young, short, quick South Koreans put on an unprecedented display of footwork and Confucian teamwork.
First the Korean women upset a heavily favored Soviet team 21-19 to win the gold medal before a packed house of madly cheering locals. With Korean players darting all around them, the Soviets must have thought they had stepped into a hornet's nest. When the final buzzer sounded, the Korean players fell to their knees and wept. It was the first gold medal Korea had ever won in a team sport involving a ball.
The Korean men made it all the way to the finals before falling 32-25 to the U.S.S.R. in the Olympic Gymnastics Hall, and they didn't let up for a moment. "'We couldn't make our players taller or heavier through training," said men's coach Yoo Jae Choong, "so in our training camps we concentrated on improving their endurance. But the most important factor for us was the Korean tradition of Confucianism, which teaches following the leaders and cooperation."
The Soviets, a nation with two million team handball players, compared with 10,000 in South Korea, went away impressed. "We will consider many elements in the Koreans' play for use in the future," said men's coach Anatoly Yevtushenko. "Their speed came as a surprise. A lot of teams here were not ready for the Koreans."