Mike Rowbottom ©ITG

Thirty-five years ago today the cauldron in the Olympic Stadium in Seoul was set alight to mark the opening of the second summer Games to be held in Asia.

This historic moment was marred by the fact that a number of doves released earlier as a traditional symbol of world peace had remained, stubbornly, on the edge of the cauldron and were subsequently incinerated by the burgeoning Olympic Flame.

Looking back at the 1988 Summer Olympics as a whole there is the same uneasy mix of memories.

Seoul 1988 was Greg Louganis earning diving gold for the United States the day after concussing himself during the preliminary round after hitting his head on the springboard.

Seoul 1988 was Canada’s Ben Johnson going from hero to zero when his 100 metres win - ahead of US rival Carl Lewis, and in a world record of 9.79sec - was annulled because of a positive doping test.

Seoul 1988 was Anthony Nesta of Suriname winning the men’s 100m butterfly title to become the first black swimmer to win an individual Olympic swimming gold.

Seoul 1988 was Kristin Otto winning six swimming gold medals having been nurtured in an East German programme that would soon be revealed as involving long-term, state-sponsored doping.

Seoul 1988 was Britain’s Adrian Moorhouse winning 100m breaststroke in the pool four years after the shattering experience of finishing fourth when favoured to take gold at Los Angeles 1984.

Seoul 1988 was Roy Jones Jr of the US, a winner of every round en route to the light-middleweight boxing final, seeing the arm of his South Korean opponent raised after a 3-2 verdict despite the fact that he had pummelled Park Si-hun for three rounds, landing 86 punches to the latter’s 32.

Seoul 1988 was Canadian sailor Lawrence Lemieux sacrificing his chance to win silver in the Finn sailing class as he abandoned the race to save an injured competitor in mortal peril - and, after finishing 21st, received the Pierre de Coubertin medal honouring his bravery and sacrifice.

Seoul 1988 was East German judge Ellen Berger flagging a penalty on a technicality against the US women’s artistic gymnastics team which meant they dropped to fourth in the all-around competition, with … East Germany moving up to take bronze.

The Seoul Olympics, which opened 35 years ago today on September 17, were polarised in terms of events to celebrate or to denigrate ©Getty Images
The Seoul Olympics, which opened 35 years ago today on September 17, were polarised in terms of events to celebrate or to denigrate ©Getty Images

As in any Olympic Games, all of human life was here. But Seoul 1988, perhaps more than any other, seems to have been polarised between the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly…

Sadly, for many, the rise and fall of Ben Johnson remains the abiding image of these Olympics. It is hard to convey the impact at the time of this shocking news about one of the blue riband Olympic events. Never had there been - never has there been - such a high profile drugs bust.

I was working on The Guardian sports desk at the time, on an early shift, and we heard the news via an unusually grave Des Lynam on the BBC. It sent a charge through the office. Clear the back page. Clear the front page while you’re at it.

And yet the drug in question - stanozolol - raised as many questions as it answered.

The urine sample which had been tested after the 100m final had shown up "a chronic suppression" of Johnson’s adrenal functions. In other words, his natural levels of testosterone were depressed, which can happen when long-term ingestion of artificial anabolic steroids convinces the body that it does not need to bother producing any of its own.

If that fact pointed towards Johnson’s guilt, the fact that it was stanozolol which had shown up in his test, in large quantities, was problematic. Not for the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which banned him for two years. But for those in Johnson’s camp who, subsequently, would be outright in their admissions that he had been doped for the reason proffered by all those who dope - that is, to keep up with all the others who were doing it.

Neither Johnson’s coach, Charlie Francis, who remained an unabashed apologist for doping until his dying day, nor the man who administered Johnson’s doping programme, Dr Jamie Astaphan, claimed to understand the finding.

At the inquiry set up in Canada in May 1989 under the direction of Government Chief Justice Charles Dubin, Johnson admitted he had lied about taking drugs, and that he had also been taking drugs when he had broken the world record in 1987. As a result, not only was his performance in Seoul 1988 annulled, but also he was stripped of his gold and previous world record from Rome.

Johnson’s camp insisted he had had his last shot of steroids on August 28, 26 days before the final. But they said it was furazabol, not stanozolol, which was the drug at the centre of his programme. And, puzzlingly, later laboratory tests showed that the stanozolol in Johnson’s sample was pure. Stanozolol that has been ingested and urinated would be a broken-down version of the drug.

At the inquiry, Astaphan speculated that Johnson may have panicked and taken a banned substance during the Olympics. Just to add to the confusion, there were reports of a "Mystery Man" in the post-race doping control area. Johnson, meanwhile, contended that someone had spiked his drink.

Johnson returned to the sport in 1991, but one year after failing to make the final of the 1992 Olympic 100m event he was banned for life after testing positive for illegal levels of testosterone.

The men's 100m win in a world record of 9.79 by Canada's Ben Johnson at Seoul 1988 was swiftly erased following a positive drugs test ©Getty Images
The men's 100m win in a world record of 9.79 by Canada's Ben Johnson at Seoul 1988 was swiftly erased following a positive drugs test ©Getty Images

While Johnson’s mark in Seoul has long been bettered, the world record of 21.34 set in the women’s 200m by Florence Griffith Joyner remains on the books.

What has also remained, unfortunately, has been a scepticism about the validity of this mark, and of the world 100m record of 10.49 that Griffith Joyner had set earlier in the year at the national trials, amidst suspicion that her dramatic late-career improvement may have been down to performance-enhancing drugs.

Her cause was not aided by her announcement on February 25 the following year, aged 29, that she was retiring - an announcement that came on the eve of mandatory drug testing being instituted.

Griffith Joyner died in her sleep on September 21 in 1998 from what an autopsy recorded as a congenital brain abnormality.

This weekend Shericka Jackson of Jamaica, who retained her world 200m title last month in Budapest in a time of 21.41, will seek to break that longstanding record at the Diamond League final in Eugene. Asked in a press conference if she regards her personal best as the real world record, she replied, with more than a trace of impatience, that Griffith Joyner never failed a drug test and her world records thus stood to be bettered.

The final Olympic medals table for Seoul 1988 was topped by the Soviet Union - making its last summer Olympic appearance as such - with 132 medals, 55 of them gold, with the US third on a total of 94, 36 of which were gold.

In second place, the relatively tiny entity of East Germany, with 102 medals, and one more gold than the United States.

It was an extraordinary performance. It became less so when, after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, documents kept by the Stasi - East Germany’s secret police - emerged into public view and provided evidence of a state doping programme which had existed for almost a quarter of a century on a scale never previously seen.

It was known as State Plan 14.25. What it meant, for a generation of young East German athletes, was a simple choice: follow a state-run programme of doping or forget about pursuing your career.

American boxer Roy Jones Jr, left, was the victim of a decision widely considered the biggest miscarriage of justice in Olympic history at Seoul 1988 ©Getty Images
American boxer Roy Jones Jr, left, was the victim of a decision widely considered the biggest miscarriage of justice in Olympic history at Seoul 1988 ©Getty Images

It was not until 1998, nearly a decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall, that the full extent of this operation was revealed in the courthouse of Berlin’s Moabit district, as four swimming coaches and two doctors were accused of inflicting grievous bodily harm on athletes who had been in their charge.

They were the first of many, thanks to a team of 60 special prosecutors who had spent years examining files taken from the offices of the Stasi. The list of suspects involved in what was described as "one of the largest pharmacological experiments in history" numbered almost 700.

The charge sheet for the first of these hearings included evidence from 17 athletes who claimed their health had been destroyed by anabolic steroids - or "vitamins", as the coaches who doled them out to their young charges preferred to call them.

It was a tragedy for those denied their rightful places on the medal podium over a quarter of a century; it was a tragedy also for those who took their unrightful places on the medal podium, athletes who were never given the opportunity to show what they could do without pharmacological assistance.

The photograph taken at the end of the light-middleweight final speaks volumes - the referee, with an ambiguous expression on his face, holds up the arm of the home boxer Park Si-Hun. But rather than exulting, the South Korean is looking across at his opponent, Roy Jones Jr, with an expression of shock.

Jones Jr, meanwhile, stares, hands on hips, taking in the fact that - as he suspected - he has just found himself on the wrong end of one of the most outrageous judging verdicts ever handed down to a practitioner in the noble art of boxing.

Park himself apologised to Jones, telling him through an interpreter: "I am sorry. I lost the fight. I feel very bad." On the victory stand, Park raised Jones’s arm to mark what he felt was the true result.

Inevitably there were accusations that officials within the Korean Amateur Boxing Association had bribed or coerced some of the judges to give the result to their man. One of the judges announced soon after the fight that the decision had been a mistake. Eventually, all three who had voted in favour of Park were suspended - an IOC investigation in 1997 found that they had been inappropriately entertained by Korean officials. But the result was allowed to stand.

Park’s progress to the final had been abetted by similarly surprising verdicts. But South Korea also felt what it was like to suffer a sense of injustice in the boxing ring when home bantamweight Byun Jong-Il lost his bout to Alexander Hristov of Bulgaria after being docked two crucial points by New Zealand referee Keith Walker for illegal use of the head. The decision provoked a riot in which Walker was attacked. In the aftermath, a tearful Byun staged a silent protest in the ring, where he was eventually given a chair. He stayed put for more than an hour.

United States diver Greg Louganis is helped from the pool after hitting his head on the 3m springboard in the preliminary competition - he returned to qualify and retained his title the following day ©Getty Images
United States diver Greg Louganis is helped from the pool after hitting his head on the 3m springboard in the preliminary competition - he returned to qualify and retained his title the following day ©Getty Images

The controversy in the women’s artistic gymnastics team event occurred after Berger noticed that Rhonda Faehn, who was the US team alternate and was not competing, had been standing on the uneven bars podium for the duration of Kelly Garrison-Steve's compulsory routine on that apparatus.

Although Faehn was not a coach, Berger assessed the penalty under a rule prohibiting coaches from remaining on the podium while an athlete was competing.

Her challenge was accepted by the International Gymnastics Federation and the US were penalised five-tenths of a point - thus missing the podium by two tenths of a point. Controversial.

By the time he arrived in Seoul, Louganis was 28 and defending champion in the 3m springboard and 10m platform diving events. Having won 10m platform Olympic silver as a 16-year-old at Montreal 1976, this Californian who was given up for adoption by his 15-year-old parents would very likely have added further golds to his collection had the US not boycotted Moscow 1980 following the Soviet Union invasion of Afghanistan.

That said, his chances of retaining the springboard title in Seoul looked grim, He failed to push out far enough while leading the diving preliminary event and cracked his head on the board before dropping into the water.

Although Louganis was able to get out of the pool unaided, he was concussed and required four temporary sutures to be put into his head before returning, successfully, to the competition just over half-a- hour later.

Seven years later Louganis revealed that he had been diagnosed HIV positive six months before Seoul 1988 and that he had been taking the drug AZT every four hours while at the Games.

When he injured himself on the dive and felt blood on his head he felt horrified that he might have infected other divers, although he later learned that the chlorinated water would have prevented his blood from being potentially dangerous.

In the subsequent 10m platform competition Louganis was put under heavy pressure by China’s 14-year-old Xiong Ni, ultimately requiring to carry out a dive known as the "Dive of Death" because it has proved fatal to two divers. He managed it well enough to retain his title.

Lemieux was placed second in the men’s Finn sailing when he noticed Joseph Chan, a crew member from Singapore’s entry in the 470 class event, struggling in the water 25 metres away from his upturned boat. Chan had injured his back and was being swept away by strong currents.

The Canadian turned his own boat around and rescued the distressed fellow Olympian, who was too exhausted to heave himself onto the rescue boat.

As David Wallechinsky notes in his ever-fruitful The Complete Book of the Olympics, Lemieux was perplexed by subsequent media attention, reminding reporters of what might have happened had he ignored Chen, and adding, "I’m not that intense."

Steffi Graf of West Germany completed a first Golden Slam after beating Argentina's Gabriela Sabatini to win the Olympic women's tennis title at Seoul 1988 ©Getty Images
Steffi Graf of West Germany completed a first Golden Slam after beating Argentina's Gabriela Sabatini to win the Olympic women's tennis title at Seoul 1988 ©Getty Images

Seoul 1988 marked the return of tennis to the Olympics after a 64-year absence - an innovation that proved successful and influential. Steffi Graf of West Germany took the opportunity to become the first player to win the "Golden Slam" as she added the Olympic title to the four Grand Slams she also won that year.

This was also the first Olympic Games where women's sailing had its own event, with Allison Jolly and Lynne Jewell of the US winning the women’s 470 competition.

In the rowing events, Britain’s Steve Redgrave won the second of what would be five consecutive gold medals, this time with Andy Holmes in the coxless pair.

Another successful new feature of these Olympics was table tennis, where home player Yoo Nam-Kyu defeated compatriot Kim Ki-Talk in the men’s final and Hyun Jung-Hwa and Yang Young-Ja added gold in the women’s doubles.

There were also five demonstration sports in Seoul, all of which, save one, were to become important elements of the Olympic Movement, namely badminton, baseball, women’s judo and taekwondo. Bowling failed to catch on.

A mass demonstration of taekwondo with hundreds of adults and children performing moves in unison had featured in the Opening Ceremony, which also included a skydiving team descending over the stadium and forming the five-coloured Olympic Rings.

The skydiving team reportedly hoped the Opening Ceremony appearance would help their sport to become an Olympic medal event by 2000.

That idea went the way of the stubborn doves.