Background to the Games

Initially, there were bids from South Korea and Australia to host the 1988 Paralympic Summer Games. However, only South Korea followed up on their initial expression of interest and were subsequently awarded the right to host the Games after satisfactorily completing an ICC questionnaire. As a result, the Paralympic Games returned to being hosted in the same city as the Olympics for the first time since Tokyo in 1964.

The Iranian goalball team were deemed to have committed a ‘gross misuse of the sporting platform for political aims’ by chanting an aggressive ‘war cry’ at the Israeli team and refusing to play them. The Iranian team were disqualified and arrangements were quickly made to send them home. Iranian team manager, Asghar Dadkhan, formally apologised the following day, stating that all the other Iranian athletes would comply with the regulations, and would compete against Israel and any other nation. This was not the first time an Iranian team had been expelled, in 1982 they had been sent home early from the International Stoke Mandeville Games for distributing political propaganda.

The Games cost $28,637,142 and succeeded in making a profit of $1,324,286 which was used to start a Sports Association for the Disabled within South Korea.

The build-up to the Games

Logo

Seoul 1988 Paralympics logo with traditional Korean decorative motifs known as tae-geuks

Image courtesy of the IPC

The logo for the 1988 Games was designed by Sung Nak-Hoon. The five images in the logo are traditional Korean decorative motifs known as tae-geuks and are representative of the five oceans and continents across the world. The wave shape of the motifs was taken to represent the determination of those living with a disability to be fully active. There is also a suggestion that the motifs are arranged in the shape of a “W” for “World” to highlight the harmony and unity brought to the disabled, worldwide, by sport. 

The similarity of this logo, which was adopted by the IPC as the logo for the Paralympic movement soon after the Games, to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) five rings, led to conflict with the IOC when, in 1990, the British Olympic Association contacted the IOC pointing out the similarities.

Sports kit

Seoul 1988 Paralympic Games jacket, the reverse has the Paralympic logo embroidered across the back

Seoul 1988 Summer Games jacket worn by Paralympic athlete Yvonne Matts (née Hawtin)

Changes to Events

Judo made its debut at the 1988 Seoul Paralympic Games and wheelchair tennis was introduced as a demonstration event. 

Unfortunately, for around 150 events there were problems with insufficient participants being entered and classification issues leading to withdrawals, which resulted in them being cancelled. In most cases, the athletes had already arrived in South Korea before the event was cancelled. Seventeen national team managers signed a letter of protest about the handling of this problem and demanded that the events be held, regardless of the number of competitors, to the ICC Paralympic Committee Chairman Colin Rains. In response, the ICC issued a statement supporting the athletes and saying they would do everything possible to minimise the cancellations.

Venues

Olympic Park

  • World Peace Gate
     1988 Seoul Paralympics venue, Peace Gate
    Image credit: Martijn Giebels
  • Jamsil Olympic Stadium
    1988 Seoul Paralympics venue, Jamsil Olympic Stadium
    Image credit: Larry Koester

    Designed by Kim Swoo-geun and built for the 1986 10th Asian Games and 1988 Summer Olympics, the stadiums’ profile is designed to imitate the shape of a Korean Joseon Dynasty porcelain vase. 
    Spectator capacity – built with a capacity of 100,000 this has since been reduced to 69,950.
    Used for opening and closing ceremonies.

  • Jamsil Gymnasium
    1988 Seoul Paralympics venue, Jamsil students
    Image credit: Martijn Giebels

    Opened in 1977.
    Spectator capacity – 7,500.
    Used for goalball, swimming, and wheelchair basketball.

  • Chung-Nip Polio Centre
    Used for boccia and snooker.

  • Sangmu Sports Complex
    Used for archery, football, judo, lawn bowls, shooting, volleyball, and wheelchair fencing.

Mascot

Seoul 1988 Paralympics mascot Gomdoori

Image courtesy of the IPC 

The mascots for the 1988 Games were called the Gomdoori. Derived from the Korean word for 'teddy bear' and described as ‘moon bears’ by the organising committee, they were depicted with their legs tied together, as if running a three-legged race, which was meant to symbolise co-operation and encourage the world to work together.

The Paralympic Flame

The first Paralympic Torch Relay began with a lighting ceremony at Mani Mountain, Kangwa Island in Korea, and was carried by 282 torchbearers, 111 of whom were disabled, on the 105km route. 

The flame was lit during the opening ceremony by Lee Jae-Woon (a blind athlete), assisted by Kim Hyun Mee (Olympic Handball Gold Medallist).

The opening ceremony

Seoul 1988 Paralympics opening ceremony Seoul 1988 Paralympics opening ceremony

Images courtesy of IWAS

The Opening Ceremony took place on 15 October 1988 in front of an audience of 75,000 people, at the Olympic Park in Seoul. The Ceremony included 'The blessing of the Heaven' and 'The Festival of Drums' and presentation of the new Paralympic Flag to the Acting President of the ICC, Dr Jens Bromann. 

The Games were officially opened by the President of the Republic of Korea, Mr Roh Tae-Woo. The flame was lit and the athletes Paralympic oath was taken by table tennis player Kim So-Boo. 

After the Korean national anthem, the athletes moved to seats to watch the cultural and musical displays intended to start the Games with peace and friendship.

During the Games

Despite the Olympics and Paralympics being hosted by the same city, the Paralympians were not able to stay in the same accommodation as their Olympic counterparts. The Paralympic athletes, coaches, trainers and team supporters stayed in purpose-built accommodation about 4km from the Olympic stadium. Their accommodation had been specifically designed to be accessible to all, the architects had visited Stoke Mandeville before finalising the designs. The Paralympic Village also included catering, a post office, medical centre, a religious centre and shopping outlets. 

Although there were some communication problems and queues for food in the Paralympic village were a daily problem, overall the Games ran smoothly. Read Tara Flood’s recollections of the food, as a vegetarian, and the atmosphere in the stadium here. 

The hosts laid on a festival of art and cultural activities, including exhibitions of Korean sculpture, paintings, handicrafts, culinary art and performances of dance, music, singing and theatre as part of the Paralympic programme.

The Medals

Image courtesy of IPC

The medals for the 1988 Games were different from their predecessors as they did not include the emblem of the International Stoke Mandeville Wheelchair Sports Federation (ISMWSF) in their design. Instead, they featured the five Tae-Geuks; the first official symbol of the Paralympic Games.  On the reverse, the medals bore images of the Games’ mascots (the Gamboori) and the words '88 Seoul Korea' written in braille.

Medal statistics

Great Britain won 65 gold, 65 silver and 54 bronze medals, finishing 3rd of the 60 competing countries in the medal table.

Prominent British Paralympic athletes

  • Mike Kenny - the outstanding British athlete at the 1988 Games won five individual swimming gold medals and one silver medal. Paralysed after an accident at work, after which he was only initially able to move his eyes, he first swam at the Stoke Mandeville National Games in 1973. He retired at the end of the Seoul Games as Britain’s most successful Paralympian with sixteen gold and two silver medals in the pool, an accolade he still holds to this day. Find out more about Mikes’ story here.
  • Robin Surgeoner - Robin won four gold medals in the pool in Seoul in the C3/4 category. He previously won four golds in the pool at the Stoke Mandeville / New York Games in 1984. He was awarded an MBE in 1988 for services to disability sport. Robin recalls his time in Seoul in this interview.
  • Michael Walker - a cerebral palsy athlete, Michael won four individual gold medals in track and field events, Men's Club Throw C4, Men's Discus Throw C4, Men's Javelin C4 and Men's Shot Put C4.
  • Beverley Gull - the most successful female British athlete at the Games, winning three individual gold medals in the pool for 100m and 400m Freestyle and 100m Backstroke. 
  • Joanne Round - Joanne was only twelve years old when she competed in Seoul, making her the youngest athlete at the Games, a record she still holds. Competing in seven events, she won two relay golds and three individual silver medals in the pool.
  • Bob Matthewsone of Britain's most successful Paralympic athletes he won 3 gold medals in the 800, 1500 and 5000 metre races at the 1988 Seoul Games. Read Bob's story here

Media coverage at the event

There were 2368 media personnel present throughout the Games.

The closing ceremony

The closing ceremony took place on 24 October 1988 and began with a presentation of a 'Korean Fantasy'. There were also presentations of the 'Ojak Bridge' and 'Parting Ships'. The Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea, Lee Hyuan-Jae, made a farewell speech and the flags of Korea and Spain, the next Paralympic host nation, were raised.

The ceremony finished with a firework display.

Seoul Reflections by Tony Sainsbury, GB Paralympic Team Manager

Extract from British Paralympic Association Celebratory Handbook

But the occasion which created the most emotional impact was the closing ceremony. This was particularly so, as I was privileged to accompany one of the outstanding athletes in our team, Bob Matthews for the ceremony in his capacity as team flag bearer. Throughout the following hours I described for him everything that was happening visually - the Korean dancers, the tableaus, the dying Paralympic flame and the fireworks.

I hope that Bob’s memory of those final hours were enhanced by my meagre descriptions of a spectacle that was truly breathtaking.

References

  • Brittain, I.S, From Stoke Mandeville to Stratford: A History of the Summer Paralympic Games, (Champaign, Illinois: Common Ground Publishing)
  • Steve Bailey, Athlete First: A History of the Paralympic Movement 
  • architectureofthegames.net/1988-seoul/seoul-1988-jamsil-students-gymnasium/
  • www.bbc.com/timelines/zcmgv4j
  • www.chinadaily.com.cn/paralympics/2008-08/29/content_6981819.htm
  • english.visitseoul.net/attractions/Olympic-Park_/2140
  • www.insidethegames.biz/articles/1010786/1988-seoul
  • www.paralympic.org/robin-surgeoner-0
  • www.paralympic.org/seoul-1988
  • www.paralympic.org/seoul-1988/mascot
  • www.paralympic.org/seoul-1988/medals
  • www.paralympicheritage.org.uk/british-swimming-medal-winners-surnames-f-h
  • www.paralympicheritage.org.uk/british-athletics-medal-winners-surnames-u-z
  • www.paralympicheritage.org.uk/mike-kenny
  • www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/olympics/paralympic-sport/paralympics-gb/9520247/Meet-Britains-other-greatest-Paralympian.html
  • www.triposo.com/poi/W__61189132
  • www.paralympic.org/sites/default/files/document/120209105953155_2012_02+Paralympic+Torch+Relay.pdf
  • m.korea.net/english/NewsFocus/Sports/view?articleId=149096