The 1988 Seoul Olympics will be remembered chiefly for Ben Johnson. On the 24th of September 1988 he ran the 100m in 9.79s, breaking his own World record of 9.83s, which he had set in the 1987 IAAF World Atheletics Championships in Rome. Within 48 hours of his Olympic victory, he had been exposed as a drug cheat. The 1988 Olympics virtually came to a halt, so shocking was the news.
Here is a video of that dramatic 100m final. Looking at it now, one can see that Johnson looked like a man possessed. He exploded out of the blocks, and no one else in the race came close to catching him.
Ben Johnson had come 3rd in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics in a time of 10.22s. After this defeat, Johnson’s times steadily improved, and he started beating Carl Lewis on a regular basis. We now know that much of this improvement was due to his taking performance enhancing drugs. In the 1987 World Championships he won, in a World record time of 9.83s.
Johnson was subsequently stripped of his 1988 Olympic Gold medal, which went to Carl Lewis who had finished in 2nd place. Linford Christie of Great Britain was promoted from 3rd to 2nd place. After admitting to taking performance enhancing drugs, Johnson was also stripped of his World record and Gold medal from the 1987 World Championships. His Gold from the 1985 World Indoor Championships, however, remains on the record books.
A BBC programme about this race can be found here. This programme also has been posted to YouTube, you can see it here (although it may get removed due to copyright infringments).
This TV programme points out, and it is also mentioned here, that Ben Johnson was not the only runner in that 100m final to be implicated in taking performance enhancing drugs. 4 of the other athletes, namely Carl Lewis, Linford Christie, Dennis Mitchell and Desai Williams were all found at some point in their running careers to have used banned substances.
“Flo-Jo” in full flow
If the men’s 100m saw a dramatic World record being set by Ben Johnson, the Women’s 100m and 200m also saw Olympic and World records, by Florence Griffith-Joyner. She won the 100m in a time of 10.62s (an Olympic record), and the 200m in a time of 21.34s. Her 100m World record of 10.49s, set in July 1988, and her 200m time set in the Seoul Olympics, are both still World records 22 years later.
This is a video of her winning the 100m final in Seoul.
And, here is a video of her winning the 200m final in 1988.
Although Flo-Jo never tested positive for performance enhancing drugs, she died at the young age of 38, from an epileptic seizure. To this day, it remains an unanswered question as to whether her amazing World records and early death were due to long-term steroid use.
Greg Louganis hits his head
For me, the other iconic moment of the 1988 Seoul Olympics was the US diver Greg Louganis smashing his head on the 3m springboard during the preliminary rounds. Here is a video of his doing this.
Remarkably, despite suffering a concussion, Louganis went on to win the finals of the 3m diving the following day.