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Yet, the size of Seoul's winning vote would indicate that even the generosity of the equipment companies wasn't in itself that critical. Among other factors that helped: 1) the arrogance of the Nagoya group, which acted as if it had no competition; 2) a protest demonstration by a small group of environmentalists from Nagoya, who threatened to disrupt any Olympic preparations their city might undertake; 3) a solid bloc of Third World votes, not because of bribes but because some developing nations consider South Korea a Third World colleague and wanted to stick it to superpower Japan; and 4) a superior presentation by Cho, who had rehearsed questions and answers for hours in a hotel room with Keller, who probably knew as much about how each IOC member would react as the member himself did.
All those things made a difference, but the No. 1 factor in Seoul's favor during the Baden-Baden vote was more direct, more logical: The South Koreans had a great many of their Olympic facilities completed or close to completion, while Nagoya had only models and drawings and blueprints. As Cho says, " Nagoya was completely on paper, but we existed! That's why we won."
A young woman university student, sipping wine with friends in a dim, cozy restaurant in Kyongju, told us, "When I first heard that Seoul had won over Nagoya, I felt great pride, but after the excitement died down, I began worrying about the problems. It is very early for us to do something this big. The dice are cast and we have no choice but to do it, but there are problems. Political problems...."
President Chun himself represents one of the more explosive political questions that could adversely affect the Olympics. He came to power under martial law and never has won office in a general election. However, after rewriting the constitution to give himself a seven-year term in office, he promised he'd step down—for sure—when that term is up. Many Koreans don't believe Chun, and if he confirms their doubts by trying to hold on to the presidency, civil disturbances and harsh military response are likely. Unfortunately, the date on which Chun has promised to leave office is March 2, 1988—six months before the Olympics are scheduled to begin.
David Fitzgerald, a spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Seoul, says, "Chun's handling of that situation in 1987 and 1988 creates a big question mark in regard to the Olympics. There has been acceptance of his presidency by more and more people. But there's a fairly thin membrane holding things together here. Violent eruptions occur pretty regularly, and not too many Koreans stand up strongly for the government yet. The people are very much behind the Olympics, however. It's seen as a great prize. But they are also waiting—cynically, I think—to see if Chun keeps his promise. If he tries to force himself on them for another term—well, this is a volatile country."
So much for domestic politics. What about international politics? It's no surprise that the Soviet Union is fulminating about Seoul. That means nothing now. The Soviet bloc boycott of the Los Angeles Games, like the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Olympics, was a feckless, boring cold-war tactic that produced nothing of value. It's hard to see how another boycott in 1988 would produce any political advantage for the Soviets. Despite the absence of diplomatic relations, it would seem that the socialist athletes will be in Seoul—in force.
The wild card—the very wild card—in the international political deck, however, is North Korea. Relations between the sundered parts of the ancient Korean nation have been relentlessly hostile. The demilitarized zone between them is a barren no-man's-land bristling with military hardware and symbolizing the enmity that has grown as a result of the capricious territory splitting almost 40 years ago. In South Korea the fear of sabotage and infiltrators is rampant. Throughout the country banners stretch across streets urging locals to call the police if they notice strangers in their midst. On the lovely beaches along South Korea's magnificent east coast, large sections of sand are raked regularly by soldiers so that footprints of North Korean bad guys trying to sneak ashore from boats will be instantly visible.
Recently there have been signs of some softening in the hard-edged hostility: newly begun trade talks, help for South Korean flood victims offered by the North Korean Red Cross, suggestions that the two countries field a united Olympic team. There were even reports in October that the two Koreas were going to share the Olympics by moving some of the events from south to north.
Unfortunately, this notion had its genesis in a misinterpreted joke told by an English-speaking South Korean diplomat to a group of Italian journalists whose English was iffy at best. They had asked whether there was any way North Korea might help with the Olympics, and the South Korean cracked wryly that, yes, some people had been thinking of running the marathon out of North Korea, through the DMZ and on into Seoul. That facetious suggestion was taken quite seriously by some Italian publications and the story spread around the world. At a November meeting of national Olympic committees in Mexico City, Roh Tae Woo, president of the SLOOC, was asked about the idea of sharing Olympic facilities with North Korea. He replied curtly, "I know nothing of this." The president of the North Korean Olympic Committee, Kim Yu Sun, was rather more benign in his remarks. "We would like to be taken into consideration," he said. "I would like to say that the position of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea would be to help ensure the success of the Olympic Games in 1988."
They call her the Last Princess. This is because the Korean royal line was broken in 1910 at the time of the Japanese annexation. Her name is Yi Pangja. At 83, she lives in Seoul in the Ch'angdok Palace and receives an annual government stipend. She was born in Tokyo and in 1920 married the Korean prince, Yi Un, who died in 1970. Her son is an MIT-educated architect who now lives in Japan, so she's the last resident royal link with the Yi Dynasty, which flourished for more than 500 years, beginning in 1392, when Korea was the Hermit Kingdom. A gentle, dignified woman who speaks English with a regal delivery, Princess Yi said of the Seoul Olympics, "Everything in the city will be lovely, with flowers and flags and pleasant exchanges among all the people who come. People will see Korea differently then. People will see it as a beautiful place, more beautiful than they ever imagined it to be."