New York 1984 to Seoul 1988

The changing games

The last-minute failure of the USA to fund and coordinate the 1984 Paralympic games created a split competition that had to be accommodated on separate sites in two different continents. The old 'wheelchair games' returned to their spiritual home at Stoke Mandeville, but the newer classes of Paralympic athletes - amputees, cerebral palsy, visually impaired and 'Les Autres' - held their games at New York.

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'New York 1984 to Seoul 1988' page
Tony Griffin, a CP athlete, won golds in Indian Club and Javelin and took a silver in weight lifting for Britain at the 1984 New York games

"I went to Indian club first of all and drew this German guy – I think he was called Stefan or something like that. I threw the first club about forty odd metres and the German team made a complaint because I did not have my membrane on properly. So I thought: “OK, fair enough”. But my second throw it went just short of fifty metres and that was the one. It was a world record and that was it. The guy threw all six throws. And that is the furthest I had ever thrown up to that point in that event. So the training beforehand must have paid off. I was the smallest guy there – five foot nothing. The German guy was five foot ten and he just didn’t get anywhere near me and that world record to my own knowledge was never broken by a class 6 man... It’s still done as an event but not by my particular class. So that to my mind means that I will always be a world-record holder." Tony Griffin 

Photo:Tara Flood (second right) with some of the GB team at New York in 1984

Tara Flood (second right) with some of the GB team at New York in 1984

photo: Tara Flood

SEOUL 1988

The games at Seoul transformed the international attitudes to disability sport. For the first time since Tokyo in 1964, the Paralympics were reunited with their Olympic partners; not only would the games take place in the same country, but they would follow on immediately after the Olympics in the same stadium. But what Seoul also did - and this for the first time ever - was to accord the Paralympic games the same sort of profile and significance as the Olympic games themselves; there were spectacular opening and closing ceremonies, there was national media coverage and the events were packed with crowds of spectators.

The debacle of 1984 could never be repeated and from now on the Paralympics would grow in size and stature. 

"I remember the real difference between New York and Seoul was the fact that the Korean government just packed the stadiums to the rafters - lots of churches, lots of school kids... they were all assigned a particular country to support... Whereas in New York the arenas were filled people that had traveled with the teams, family and friends and maybe a few curious locals. What's that expression? "One man and his dog". Tara Flood

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'New York 1984 to Seoul 1988' page

Tara Flood competed at both New York in 1984 and Seoul in 1988 as a Les Autres class swimmer and she clearly remembers the sea change the games underwent between the two events here 

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'New York 1984 to Seoul 1988' page

Robin Surgeoner also won gold for swimming at Seoul. He remembers the sheer spectacle of the games' opening ceremony, which was like nothing he had ever witnessed before, here

"My most important memory... is walking out into the opening ceremony of the Seoul Paralympics into a stadium holding something like a 100 or 110 thousand people and them just roaring, just being in there, they talk about the cauldron of the games, that’s the beginning, and then you are there and then they light the flame and at that point you’re just like “This is real, we’re here”. And it was my second games, but as a memory, because that had the crowd, that 100 thousand people, they are there to see you, you’re there as an athlete representing Great Britain, you’re in your uniform... you’ve got your Union Jack-based flag and you’re part of that GB team... You have to sit outside forever, waiting, getting queued up in teams. You can imagine 3000-4000 athletes and support staff - they’ve got to get you all marshaled somewhere - ready to march in in the correct alphabetical order, so you’re kind of there, but I can see myself sat in the playing field outside of the stadium looking at the five rings on the end of the  7stadium which we could see, and the buzz, the anticipation of what it’s all about, and you’re talking to anybody and everybody because you’re all there for the same life-changing experience. And going in and that flame being lit and then the planes go whoosh through the sky across the top of the stadium. Awesome!" Robin Surgeoner


"Judo was massive in Seoul; everyone came out to watch the competition... I was only sixteen years old; nobody expected me to win... All the other weights were won by Japanese; I was the only westerner to win a medal. So the Koreans took me everywhere, to every judo club. I was doing three a night, showing my medal off and showing me skills. I was treated like a bit of a superstar really." Simon Jackson on winning gold

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'New York 1984 to Seoul 1988' page
Simon Jackson took his first judo gold at Seoul in 1988 aged 16 (he won subsequent golds at Atlanta and Sydney). He describes the experience here

This page was added on 19/12/2013.

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