The leading absentees, in terms of sporting excellence, were the Cuban boxing and baseball teams. For some unfathomable reason, Fidel Castro had honored North Korea's boycott of these Games. What the North Koreans expected to gain from their action was a mystery, too. Indeed, it seemed North Korea had offended its staunchest supporter, the Soviet Union, with its intransigence. At a press conference last week Marat Gramov, the minister of sport for the U.S.S.R., said when asked about North Korea's action, "Nonparticipation in the Olympics, regardless of which country stays away, always has negative results."
But while North Korea became more isolated because of its anti-Olympic stand, South Korea was opening new international doors. When Seoul was awarded the Games in the fall of 1981, South Korea had no formal diplomatic relations with 44 Olympic nations—including China and all of the Eastern bloc. On Sept. 13, Hungary, a Soviet ally, and South Korea declared that they would exchange missions. Similar connections with China, the U.S.S.R. and the rest of Eastern Europe are expected soon after the Games.
Though terrorism in general and North Korea's penchant for the politics of violence in particular were the most obvious threats hanging over Seoul last week, there was also the more subtle matter of drug use by Olympic athletes. The IOC has become more alert than ever to drug abuse, and Samaranch made a fierce speech last week in which he declared, "Doping equals death!" The list of IOC-banned substances now runs into the hundreds, ranging from cocaine, caffeine and certain cold remedies to anabolic steroids and any number of medicines and potions that can be used to mask the presence of other drugs. The SLOOC set up a $3 million Doping Control Center, with a staff of 80, in a five-story brick building not far from the Olympic Stadium, to analyze the urine samples that will be provided by the three medal winners in each of the 237 events and by other athletes picked at random.
Dr. Park Jong Sei, technical director of the center, said confidently, "We will catch them one way or another. I'm sure we're a little smarter than the athletes." American pole vaulter Kory Tarpenning thought differently. "We know a lot of athletes are using drugs," he said, "but they're able to test negatively because they know the system so well. Right now, I'd say the athletes are smarter than the testers."
Perhaps it's well to recall that at the Los Angeles Games, the first at which drug tests were widely administered, there were only 11 positive results from the more than 1,500 test samples. The most pessimistic observers estimate that some 50% of the Olympians in Seoul have used banned substances to help themselves qualify for these Games. Whether there will be a massive drug crackdown against the Olympians remains to be seen, though it seems unlikely. Still, some countries have done their own Olympic housecleaning.
For instance, the U.S. removed freestyle sprinter Angel Myers from its Olympic swimming team after she tested positive for steroids, and Steve Hegg, a gold and silver medalist in cycling in L.A., was nailed a week before the Seoul Games began for having an excessive amount of caffeine in his system.
No country has been better than Canada at nailing drug users. Even before its weightlifting team got to Seoul, three of its seven members had been dismissed—and a fourth soon followed—after they tested positive for steroids. A Canadian wag noted that in a sport featuring an event called the clean and jerk, the weightlifters' score was Jerks 4, Cleans 3.
Though the taking of drugs is certainly not acceptable at the Games, these days the taking of money most definitely is. Not all that long ago, any Olympian who took money for any athletic endeavor was considered guilty of treason, prostitution, grand larceny or worse. The idea that athletes might one day be offered performance incentives openly, officially and proudly by their national Olympic hierarchies would have been regarded as an absurdity. No more. Whatever other history may be made in Seoul, these Games will be known as the first at which governments or Olympic committees declared that they would be awarding cash prizes for medals.
The list includes such anticapitalist bastions as the Soviet Union, which has promised 12,000 rubles ($20,200) to each athlete who wins a gold; Poland, which will give the equivalent of $10,000 for an Olympic victory; Hungary, which has a pay scale ranging from $10,000 for a gold down to a $4,500 insurance policy for a sixth-place finish; and East Germany, where a winner reportedly is guaranteed $15,000. China will give $2,700 for a gold—although in a country where the average wage is $32 a month, that kind of windfall can go a long way.
Bigger cash prizes have been promised in the capitals of capitalism. A gold medalist from Belgium (slim as the chances are) will get the equivalent of $26,000; from France, $31,400; from Taiwan, $140,000. The Nigerian government will give big cash prizes for medals, though the amounts have not been announced, and beyond that has told its athletes that any bronze medalist will have a street in his neighborhood named after him; a silver medalist, a street somewhere else in his hometown; and a gold medalist, a street in the new capital of Abuja.