In this ninth installment of the “Road to the Summer Olympics,” we move to the 1988 Games in Seoul, South Korea. Winning the bid for hosting the Olympic Games over Japan, South Korea – much like Japan did in the 1964 Games – wanted to demonstrate to the world a peaceful and economically successful country that it, too, had become post-war.
After the boycotts of the 1980 and 1984 Games, the Olympic Committee was determined to have world participation. With accords beginning in 1984, the Soviet Bloc countries in Central and Eastern Europe came to the table and agreed to participate in the 1988 Seoul Games. This would be the last time the Soviet Union and East Germany, ceasing to exist by 1992, would participate in the Olympic Games. North Korea boycotted the Games along with Cuba. Albania, Ethiopia, and Seychelles didn’t respond or participate. Madagascar and Nicaragua dropped out due to financial reasons. Aruba, American Samoa, Brunei, Cook Islands, the Maldives, Saint Vincent, South Yemen, and Vanuatu all made their first Olympic appearance at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. The Soviet Union won the most medals and most gold, followed by East Germany, and in third place was the United States.
For numismatics, South Korea continued the tradition of issuing commemorative coins for the Olympics. The nation began producing coins honoring the 1988 Olympics in 1982 – shortly after being awarded the honor of hosting the Games in September 1981 and some two years prior to the 1984 Olympiad in the United States. A total of 37 different coins were issued, with two that carried over with the same design but different dates. Coins were issued in copper-nickel, silver, and gold in business-strike, proof, and unfrosted proof formats. A complete set of South Korea commemorative coins for the 1988 Olympics includes a total of 79 coins.
Other countries continued to produce coins for numismatic sales to commemorate the 1988 Seoul Olympics. These countries and territories included Afghanistan, American Samoa (producing four coins), Andorra (four coins), Barbados, Botswana, Bulgaria ( four coins), the Cayman Islands, China (issuing a set of three 5 Yuan coins and a 50 Yuan), the Cook Islands, Egypt, Hungary, the Hutt River Province, Italy, Nicaragua, Niue (14 coins), Panama (three coins), Poland (two commemorative issues and five Proba issues), Portugal, Samoa, Suriname (two coins), Switzerland, Tokelau, Tonga (three coins), Turkey, The United States (a silver dollar and gold $5 coin), Vanuatu, and Vietnam.
In all, the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games was a success. The vast majority of the world participated, and Korea hosted a Games that showcased to the whole world their economic success by making it the second successful Olympics held in Asia. It was also the last time the Olympics were held during the Cold War.