Research and preparation before any overseas trip is something I have long done but it hasn’t always been that way. My first overseas trip whilst based in Japan was to South Korea in the early days of January 2006. Along with my friend and colleague Asif we headed off to Seoul for a four night trip with very little knowledge of the capital city and no plan at all.
These were very different times (a pre wi-fi and smart phone era!) and I didn’t have a guide book so when discussing what to do I came up with the idea of going to the Olympic Park as all I really knew about the country was that Seoul had hosted the summer games back in 1988.
Seoul was actually my first Olympic Games (they actually beat Nagoya to win the right to host them) and I have a few memories of that fortnight but the time difference and my age meant I didn’t truly absorb the games as would happen with subsequent ones. What I can remember is Ben Johnson winning 100 metres gold in 9.79 seconds but then failing a drugs test. There was also Florence Griffith Joyner (a.k.a. Flo-Jo) dominating the women’s sprint events.
How about diver Greg Louganis hitting his head on the springboard and suffering concussion? Ouch! He still went on to come first but the most memorable gold medal for me has to be Great Britain defeating West Germany 3-1 in the hockey final. As the third goal went in commentator Barry Davies uttered the famous line “Where were the Germans……but frankly who cares?!”
When Lennox Lewis was a household name in Britain a few years later (as he became the heavyweight boxing champion of the world) I found out that he had actually represented Canada in this particular Olympics and defeated Riddick Bowe to win gold. All of that came from my head but I’m sure I’d be reminded of a few other things if I were to do a Google search!
Fast forward a couple of decades and myself and Asif made our way to the empty stadium from whatever the nearest Metro station was. It (presumably) wasn’t too long till we could see the outline of the stadium beyond a pagoda.
The stadium’s design is supposed to imitate the elegant curves of a Korean Joseon Dynasty porcelain vase. It really was very impressive and looked like some giant spacecraft as we laid our eyes on it for the first time from across the river.
Seoul Olympic Stadium is located in the Songpa District which is southeast of the city centre south of the Han River. The Korean national football team played matches at the stadium between it’s opening in September 1984 and May 2000 before the newly built Seoul World Cup Stadium became their new home. It initially had a capacity of approximately 100,000 but today it’s 30% less than that for K-League 2 tenants Seoul E-Land FC.
No disrespect to them but the list of bands and singers to have played there is more impressive. The likes of Michael Jackson, Ricky Martin, Sarah Brightman, Elton John, Backstreet Boys, Metallica, Lady Gaga, Eminem, Muse, Coldplay and Paul McCartney have all held concerts at the stadium which is the centrepiece of the Seoul Sports Complex.
This also includes tennis courts, a gymnastics arena, the cycling velodrome, the aquatic centre and plenty of other facilities too numerous to mention here. Read that as I don’t know exactly what’s there!
Not surprisingly non-sports fan Asif thought the idea of going to see a stadium exterior was a rather bizarre choice but went along with it anyway as he was mildly interested by the architecture of it all. There seemed to be an array of statues and artwork pieces dotted around the Olympic Park complex so he was satisfied with that and chose what we did in the evening.
One of the sports grounds was open so we adopted the philosophy of just walking in until someone tells you you can’t be there. That never happened though!
Bonus: The first Asian city to host the Summer Olympics was Tokyo in 1964 (they were also going to have them in 1940 but WWII put paid to that) and then it was Seoul in 1988 followed by Beijing in 2008. I was in the Chinese capital one year before they began and there were a few signs that the Olympics were coming.
In the wake of Covid_19 the big question is still whether or not the delayed 2020 Olympics will return to Tokyo. Visitors from overseas certainly won’t be present if they do go ahead and so you could say that they will be like no other!
Click here to read ‘Reignite Your Passion For The Olympics At This Tokyo Museum (Before The Games Are Probably Cancelled!)’
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