Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Seoul: Olympic Park

In 1988, sprinter Ben Johnson lost his gold when he tested positive for a performance enhancing drug, Flo-Jo set an Olympic record, and Greg Louganis got the gold despite a nasty hit on the head from the diving board. It happened in Seoul. 

Twenty three years later, on a day that seems the very antithesis of summer, Shane and I survey the remains of those games, Olympic Park. The Rough Guide we often consult on these matters tell us that "there's a general air of decay about the place-- but that's part of its appeal." It's right. As we walk, we don't see many others, being winter and a weekday. The buildings look as though they are trying their hardest not to look like they were designed by a Cold War era architect. 

We continue on through to the sculpture park, exhibiting works by artists from a handful of the countries who competed. The individual monuments strike me as spartan, but the collaborative nature of the sculpture series hints at a more dramatic story. Larger works stand solitary spread over the grounds, smaller works cluster together. Olympic Park also contains a small art museum. It's nice to know that art got some attention at an event that is all about athletics.

At the front of the park, the air becomes energized. The Olympic flame continues to burn on under the colossal World Peace Gate. Flags from each participating nation still wave, including flags that have outlasted the nations themselves, like Zaire, East and West Germany, the Soviet Union, and North and South Yemen. Lots of children, on winter break from public school, ice skate on the rink next to the gate. We admire the grotesque-faced totems lining the wide walkways. 

I shiver and snap a few more pictures and Shane catches some last glimpses of the World Peace Gate. We walk to the subway, away from this serene place that once held such spectacle, toward our next destination. 

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