"The fast pace of change explains why South Koreans forgot about the Olympics," said Hyun Hong Choo, the minister of legislation. According to The Korea Herald, "The aura of the 1988 Seoul Olympics has been darkened and nearly obliterated in the shadow of loud and turbulent political and social disturbances."
One thing everyone agrees on is that the Olympics helped open to the outside world a country once known as the Hermit Kingdom. A sometimes paranoid bastion of anti-Communism, South Korea used the Games to broaden its contacts with socialist countries. As a result, for the first time in recent history, South Korea has established open trade links with the Soviet Union and China as well as full diplomatic ties with Hungary.
What has also been heightened by the Olympics is a sense among South Koreans that they are no longer citizens of a second-rate nation. President Roh spoke for many people when he said in a post-Olympic speech, "We have now acquired the confidence that we can do anything to which we put our mind."
If there is one place where the Olympic spirit undoubtedly lingers in South Korea, it is at Olympic Stadium, the site where it all started last September. The flame was long ago extinguished, but something about the place sparks passions dormant outside the stadium gates.
On a recent spring day, a large group of tourists, some of them South Korean, was sitting in the stadium. Two of the visitors, middle-aged men dressed in suits, mischievously clambered onto the track and blinked in the sunshine. They smiled at each other, and then started running on the same red oval where Carl Lewis, Flo-Jo and others had won gold medals during those 16 days in 1988. One of the men faltered at the turn, but the other continued, smiling as he raced down the homestretch, his tie dancing in the air. He crossed the finish line laughing like a child, and kept running.