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Quinn: Memories of Seoul - part one

By By Keith Quinn

Published: 10:58AM Tuesday July 01, 2008 Source: ONE Sport

The fourth in the series here about the seven summer Olympics Keith has broadcast from from 1972-2004. In August 2008 Keith will be reporting for TVNZ at his eighth games.

1988 in Seoul was Keith Quinn's fourth Olympics and in part one of a two part series Keith recalls writing his family a farewell note in fear of a North Korean attack.

When I think back to the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea, a number of images jump immediately from the memory bank.

Yes there were crowded streets and locals staring at we visitors with pale faces and funny freckles but the overall recall is one of a very happy time and a Games held without the major boycotts and political interference. Such matters had interfered with things from the previous three events at Montreal, Moscow and Los Angeles.

I also remember rushing from the swimming stadium over to the track and field to make sure I was in place to see the flying feet (and backside) of Florence Griffith-Joiner go rushing past on the way to her 200-metre victory.

I also remember the shock of hearing that a press conference was going to be held about four days after Ben Johnson's epic 100 metre gold medal for Canada. That was the signal that there was a problem for Johnson. Sure enough he was thrown out for the taking of banned substances.

What a dozy bastard, we exclaimed, on hearing the news. The world at his feet one day, but rubbished out of sight the next.

On a personal level I remember that my old touring buddies from past games; Brendan Telfer, Lincoln Hurring and I squeezed into an apartment on the 28th floor in the press village. We enjoyed our time together though once and only once did we venture onto the tiny balcony to look downwards. None of us prefer heights.

Our building backed onto a field in which vegetables were grown. From our lofty perch we could see, on each and every hour of every day security guards sitting there with their rifles among the high rows of vegetation. They were hidden from ground level view. At night it was somehow comforting to come home and see their cigarettes glowing in the dark. I hope the same blokes didn't sit there 24 hours for the whole of the Games.

Even though these were very friendly games there were some tensions. To the point where the English-language daily The Korea Herald ran a front page denial from the local head of police that they were gearing up for prevention of a rocket attack on the main stadium on opening ceremony day. Someone started an Olympic rumour that North Korea was aiming weapons of mass destruction (though we didn't use that term then) at the stadium.

Of course the "story" swept through the media like fire through a fern. It even got me waking up the night before the opening ceremony and finding myself tossing and turning. I got up and wrote a "farewell" note to my family and left it on the bedside as I left to go to the stadium a few hours later. A bit like the Battle of Britain pilots did I suppose?

Seem silly now doesn't it? Yes of course it does. But back then the rumour nagged away at me. Actually, 20 years later, I still have the letter. It sits at home here in my study. It is unopened. I cannot remember how I worded my impending departure from this world. Someone in the family might read it one day when I am long gone. I won't ever bother.

In the end the rumour was forgotten. Nothing happened to distract us from a wonderful opening day. The South Koreans laid out a marvellous show for the entire world to see.

For their own reasons North Korea chose not to attend the Games; neither did Cuba, Albania, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Nicaragua or the Seychelles. So there was a boycott of sorts I suppose. Some of those who didn't show up were sorely missed as competitors but if the principal of the Olympic Games is that it is a gathering to show full global unity then the absence of any country was a cheerless thing.

There were a couple of other things I recall about the opening ceremony. One was the impeccable preparation for the events. There were fully three days of full dress rehearsals of the ceremony. All that was missing was the march past of teams. Local kids stood in for the various national squad-sizes. Each dance and cultural routine was flawlessly staged and a full attendance of 100,000 came each night. For one night of the dummy run men and women, boys and girls were transported in from the far south of the country.

On that first night I remember I walked into and out of the stadium with Kathrine Switzer. (she was the famous American who had been the first female to officially run the famous Boston Marathon) Katherine was wkring with us at those games as a colour commentator. She had her hair coloured then, and it was reddish in shade.

Teenaged boys and girls, all of them with Korean jet black hair, rushed to get close to Kathrine for a look at her. The crowd around us was a little taste for us of what a Hollywood stars must go through every day! Kathrine walked regally through it all!

In the ceremony the first highlight for me was the demonstration of Taekwondo. Fully 1000 boys and girls sprinted onto the infield to show the world their national sport. Their lines were faultlessly straight and their childish cries of martial arts efforts echoed in unison around the vast arena. They cracked pieces of wood with their sharp yells and slashing hands but within seconds the flying chips had been spirited out of sight under their jackets. It was totally impressive.

On the fourth night the world TV audience tuned in and the ceremony went ahead with perfect precision.

Part two on Wednesday where Keith recalls an extremely helpful lady from Channel Nine that transforms his table tennis knowledge almost instantly.