Seoul, Korea–October 15-25, 1988

by Neil Ohlenkamp, U.S. Disabled Sports Team Judo Coach

Lynn Manning (seated) with Coach Neil Ohlenkamp, and the US team preparing for matches at the 1988 Paralympics in Seoul, KoreaIn the 1988 Paralympic Games for disabled athletes the United States captured the most medals, including two bronze medals in judo, among the 65 countries competing in 17 different sports and 732 medal events. World class performances, both on and off the field of competition, were delivered by the 376 U.S. disabled athletes participating. These athlete’s laborious training and athletic skill demonstrated to the world the victory of human willpower and inspired hope and courage in the physically disabled. Overcoming obstacles and restrictions each athlete has a personal story of triumph which shouts “we too can do it” to every one of the 500 million handicapped persons of the world.

“The 8th Paralympics in Seoul will undoubtedly be a venue to turn all frustration into courage, all despair into hope, all prejudice into better understanding” said Korean President Roh Tae Woo declaring the opening of the games. Living up to Roh’s promise, the dedication of the final four bearers of the Paralympic torch moved many of the 89,000 in attendance at the Olympic Stadium to tears. Volleyball player Kang Dok Chan carried the torch into the stadium, sprinting on his one leg and a crutch. Kang handed the torch to cerebral palsy victim Son Hoon. Son passed the flame to track athlete Cho Hyun Lee, who was pushed in her wheelchair by her seven-year-old daughter. Blind runner Lee Jae Woon ignited the Paralympic flame with the assistance of a Korean Olympic gold medalist to complete the ceremony.

On and off the mats the U.S. blind judo team also overcame obstacles and restrictions. Women’s judo was not included and 3 national champions as well as last year’s world champion could not attend leaving U.S. entries in only 4 of the men’s weight classes. Upon arrival we discovered that all but one of the scheduled referees were Korean. The under 95 kilogram weight class was cancelled and an agreement was reached only moments before the draw which allowed our under 95K competitor, Lynn Manning of Los Angeles, California, to compete in the over 95K weight class. In the end the 25 pound weight advantage of his Brazilian opponent proved too much for him. After dominating the match by scoring 2 yukos and 2 kokas with throwing techniques and then escaping from one mathold after 26 seconds, Lynn was pinned a second time and could not escape.

Winford Haynes, from Alamogordo, New Mexico, current world record holder in several track events rushed to the competition site after failing to qualify in the morning for the 400 meter finals which were scheduled for the same afternoon as the judo competition but in another part of Seoul. Eventually losing two matches by ippon he fought hard in spite of an injury and the distraction of training for multiple events.

John Allen, of Miami, Florida, and Jamie McKinley, of Spokane, Washington, earned bronze medals for their efforts in difficult matches. The Japanese and Korean teams outperformed the rest of the 9 countries entered and John and Jamie ultimately lost to competitors from these countries. The U.S. athletes had no previous international judo experience and learned a great deal.

This was the first year judo was included as a Paralympic sport and the first time all 3,200 athletes representing the world’s disabled gathered together in a Paralympic Village and utilized the Olympic venues. The volunteers and other Koreans were supportive and the athletes enjoyed the autograph seekers, pin trading, and bargain shopping as well as the competition. The Paralympics boosted the image of Americans in Korea and awakened the world of sports to the achievements of the disabled.