In the Land of the Morning Calm, the calm did not fail to deliver. Nary a cloud, nor a protest, stood between heaven and the Olympic Stadium here Saturday morning as the Games of the XXIVth Olympiad began amid sunshine, pomp, splendor and a traffic snarl on the boulevard in front of the stadium.
Nothing ominous floated overheard from the north, where the other half of Korea was sitting out this rather spectacular moment in the history of the peninsula's mornings. All roads led to the Olympic Games in 1988 with the exception of the one that crosses the 21/2 miles of the demilitarized zone
No matter. Of 167 eligible IOC countries, 160 elected to participate in these South Korean Olympics. As a worldwide television audience estimated near 1 billion viewers looked on, their officials and athletes paraded around the stadium track Saturday in the traditional Olympic opening ceremonies custom.
Greece led the way, followed by the rest in alphabetical order. The procession took considerably longer than the hour the opening ceremonies organizers had allotted. Non-boycotted (almost) Olympics require bigger, and lengthier, parades.
But there were few complaints in the stands, where 70,000 spectators had each paid 150,000 won (about $210) to see this peaceful demonstration.
The South Koreans in attendance could not have picked a finer morning to spend the equivalent of an average worker's monthly salary. Temperatures were in the low 70s and humidity was down, and the student anti-government riots and protests that have attracted worldwide attention for the past year were nowhere to be seen. No one's tears were because of tear gas.
Part of the reason for this was no doubt the tight security. Thousands of uniformed policemen flanked the stadium, and every bag and container was checked as it entered. How serious was this security business? Even Tom Brokaw and Bryant Gumbel were frisked. This was not the stage for any fraternity pranks, not to mention serious protests.
The Koreans settled on a traditional opening ceremony that was strong on native costumes, dance, procession (including a 500-boat parade down the Han River that runs just outside the stadium), and fireworks (firecrackers, mostly). Yin and Yang were everywhere. Unlike the Los Angeles Games of '84, which were heavy on glitz and glitter and featured, among other things, a human rocket flying around the Coliseum powered by a battery-pack, the Korean Games were subdued and subtle and loaded with hidden message. Confucius would have been as proud as President Roh Tae-woo appeared to be when he officially declared the Games open.
The Samsung Corp., a major sponsor of the Games, did do a little showing off by giving an earphone radio headset to each spectator. Through the earphones you could dial any of eight languages and hear the play-by-play of the opening ceremonies in the language of your choice.
Thus you knew, for example, that when the "Greeting the Sun" dance was taking place and the dancers spelled out the word "oso oseyo," they were saying "welcome" in Korean.
The cauldron-lighting ceremony needed no translation. As expected, Sohn Kee-Chung was the star of the show. The 76-year-old Korean sporting legend who won the Olympic marathon in Germany in 1936 carried the torch into the stadium. There he transferred it to Miss Lim Chun-Ae, a 19-year-old Korean runner who in turn jogged the flame to three "regular" Korean citizens _ a teacher, a student-athlete and a dancer _ who were hoisted by elevator to the cauldron where the flame will reside until it and the Games expire on Oct. 2.
The cauldron was successfully lit, much to the consternation of several dozen doves, who were still circling that end of the stadium after being released just moments earlier. Some fancy trick flying was required to dodge the wall of flames suddenly filling their flight path. Otherwise, they'd have been duck soup.
So much for being a symbol of peace.
The play-by-play announcers did not mention the birds' problems, however. It wasn't that kind of morning. In a country that has had more than its share of unrest; that, in its history, has been occupied by outsiders more than it's been occupied by itself, it was a day of getting back to its roots. Appropriately to the extreme, the opening ceremony morning of the Korean Olympics was as calm as any you'd ever want to see.