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Seoul Spotlight

October 3, 1988

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ In the Olympic battle of East vs. West, it’s not if you win or lose, it’s how you score the Games.

The United States finished third in the 1988 Summer Games with 36 gold medals and 94 total medals. The Soviet Union collected 55 golds and 132 total; East Germany had 37 golds and 102 total.

So the United States was once against embarrassed by the East bloc juggernaut, the same as it was at the 1976 Montreal Games, right?

Not necessarily.

Americans won more gold than ever at these Games, only one behind the East Germans. In 1976 the Americans were six down. If the United States had won Sunday’s highly disputed middleweight boxing bout with Korea, it would have tied for second.

There were a lot of other ifs: -If Anthony Hembreck hadn’t shown up late for his bout.

-If the men’s 100-meter relay team had figured out how to pass the baton.

-If Matt Biondi had taken an extra stroke in the 100-meter butterfly.

If. If. If.

″By all rights we should have 40 gold,″ said Mike Moran, a spokesman for the U.S. Olympic Committee.

So, with all that real and potential gold, the United States actually had one of its better Olympics, right?

Not necessarily.

The problem is, ifs aside, there were more medal competitions this year, 237, compared with the 198 at Montreal. So if you figure out the percentage difference, divide by the number of new competing countries and factor in the rules changes, the United States did, well, who knows?

″It is hard to base your consideration on the medal chart,″ said USOC President Robert Helmick, who classifies the U.S. showing as ″within our expectations.″

″I think it is important that we are responsive to the medal count,,″ he said, ″but you have to look at the individual events and the individual athletes to make a good assessment.″

Do all that assessing and you’ll find the United States did make some gains against the East Germans and Soviets.

One of the bigger successes was track and field. The U.S. men’s team was first in gold and total medals, matching its 1976 performance. The women’s team, led by Florence Griffith Joyner and Jackie Joyner-Kersee, showed a marked improvement with six golds compared with none in 1976.

The United States led in boxing, with three golds, two silvers and three bronzes, its fourth best gold showing and second-best total showing. U.S. boxers did better in overall medals but didn’t match their five golds of the Montreal Games.

The United States saw improvement in team sports, topping the Soviets and in women’s basketball, men’s water polo and volleyball. Although there was the loss to the Soviets in men’s basketball, the Americans were more competitive than ever, qualifying for eight teams sports.

In 1976, it was only one sport: basketball.

Swimming is a little harder to score. The United States, with a seven-medal effort by Matt Biondi and three golds by Janet Evans, was three golds behind the East Germans, who unlike 1976 now have a strong men’s team to go with a dominant women’s squad. But the figures are skewed by the fact that each country is now limited to two competitors in each event, instead of three as allowed in Montreal.

There was only one U.S. medal in gymnastics, a bronze for Phoebe Mills’ performance on the balance beams. While disappointing in comparison to the exhilaration of Mary Lou Retton’s 1984 victory, the U.S. performance this year tied the one medal it received in 1976.

The United States also made progress in other areas. It took two of the four tennis golds, won demonstration baseball and did well in demonstration taekwondo.

American Gregg Barton took two surprise golds in canoe-kayaking.

″He is the true spirit of the Olympics,″ Helmick said.

The United States also led the list in gold medal stars. Biondi and Evans, Griffith Joyner and Joyner-Kersee, Carl Lewis, Jim Abbott, the one-armed American pitcher, Greg Louganis and others lead the list of faces that will remain in public memory in the months following the games.

″We’ve shown that we’re still quite capable of producing heroes,″ Helmick said.

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