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THE SEOUL GAMES / DAY 1 : Seoul Opens Its Doors, and the Games Begin : South Korea's Party Draws 160 Delegations to Olympic Stadium

September 17, 1988|RANDY HARVEY | Times Staff Writer

If there had been an applause meter at the stadium, the South Koreans certainly would have won. Their delegation of 603 was the only one to receive a prolonged ovation.

Cho Young Chul, a judo player who won a bronze medal in 1984, was South Korea's flag-bearer.

There was curiosity before the ceremony about whether the United States would receive as warm a reception as the Soviet Union and China. The United States has been a close ally of South Korea for almost four decades but also is resented by some citizens here, in part because of the 42,000 military personnel it stations in the country. Student demonstrations have had an increasingly anti-American theme.

The Soviet Union and China, which are aligned with North Korea, do not have diplomatic relations with South Korea. But their ties to the country are improving, as evidenced by, among other things, their presence at the Olympics.

Less than a year ago, the Soviets were criticizing the IOC's choice of Seoul for the Games. But they since have been highly supportive of the city's efforts. They not only have sent the second-largest delegation, a total of 655, but also are participating in the arts festival with a troupe of dancers from the Bolshoi Ballet and other Soviet companies.

And more significant, the Soviet Union has allowed Korean Air Lines (KAL) planes carrying athletes to the Games to fly over Soviet air space. A KAL plane was shot down upon entering Soviet air space in 1983, killing all passengers.

There also was speculation that Hungary would be well-received. Earlier this week, it became the first Eastern Bloc country to establish de facto diplomatic relations with South Korea. Government officials here hope that other Soviet Bloc countries will follow.

But until the South Koreans entered the stadium, there was no significant difference in the enthusiasm that the crowd showed for any country, as each was politely applauded. The Dutch drew murmurs for the bright orange umbrellas they carried to deflect the midday sun, and the Canadians brought some spectators to their feet by throwing Frisbees into the stands.

Marching to "Stars and Stripes Forever," the U.S. athletes, were the most free-spirited. Some of them interrupted the orderly procession to take pictures of each other. One athlete held a sign that said, "Hi Mom, I'm Here," and another had a sign that said, "Send Won (the South Korean currency)." The crowd did not join their chants of, "U.S.A., U.S.A."

After the delegations gathered on the field, South Korean President Roh Tae Woo officially declared the Games open. In contrast to President Reagan, who made his pronouncement in 1984 from behind bulletproof glass in the Coliseum press box for security reasons, Roh, displaying confidence in the measures his government has taken to protect the Olympics, stood in the open.

Los Angeles' role as host city of the Games officially ended when Mayor Tom Bradley arrived in Seoul to hand over the Olympic flag, which was carried into the stadium by eight South Korean athletes, including all six of its 1984 gold-medal winners.

The Olympic flame neared the end of its its 10,000-mile, 26-day journey from the Temple of Hera in Olympia, Greece, as Sohn Kee Chung carried the torch into the stadium.

Sohn, 76, was the first Korean to win a gold medal--he finished first in the marathon at the 1936 Berlin Olympics--but he represented Japan, which was Korea's colonial master from 1910-45. Sohn cried during the victory ceremony in 1936 out of sadness, as Japan's flag, the Rising Sun, was raised. But his tears Saturday were of the other kind as he literally leaped for joy when he entered the stadium.

Sohn ran 100 meters and handed the torch to Lim Chun Ae, 19, the South Korean farm girl who won three gold medals in track and field at the 1986 Asian Games. Lim was involved in a highly publicized incident last year when she was hospitalized with a ruptured eardrum after her coach slapped her on the head for not working hard enough in a practice. The coach later issued a public apology, and Lim promised to be more diligent.

Lim ran one lap before transferring the flame to three runners, Chung Sun Man, 30, a schoolteacher on the remote Korean island of Sohuksando; Kim Won Tak, 24, a graduate student at a Seoul university and a marathoner, and Sohn Mi Chung, 18, a Seoul high school student who is studying dance.

They were dramatically elevated on a platform to the caldron, which sits on a tower 22 meters above the ground, and simultaneously lit the Olympic torch.

SLOOC officials explained that those three runners were selected to light the torch because they represent the fields of athletics, scholastics and arts, as they harmonize at the Seoul Olympics. They also represent heaven, earth and humankind.

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