And so it is over. They let the Games end here Sunday night. The Land of the Morning Calm was so again this morning.
But it will never be the same.
Seoul belongs to the world now. The Olympics put it on the map. It is no longer only a place that lots of American GIs came to rescue in the 1950s and lots stay to protect to this day. It is a city and a place of its own accord.
Running a successful Olympics is not the same as competing in an arms race or tripling your gross national product. It is only close.
Sunday night's closing ceremony of the Games of the 24th Olympiad were a panorama of colors so bright, sounds so captivating and sights so awe-inspiring that they fall into the category of "words cannot describe . . ." The closing was a visual experience worth writing about, but with the knowledge that no creative juxtaposition of nouns and verbs can properly convey what the eye saw. You just had to be there.
It was a celebration with many symbols. A black man riding on a white man's shoulder, waving a flag from neither man's country. A man in a turban high-fiving a very proper-looking British woman. A man in a long robe, marching next to a woman in a miniskirt. Soviet athletes in ice-cream white suits, dashing around the track right next to American athletes. It has been 12 years since there was even a chance of that.
And perhaps the best of all: The first athletes to march in waving posters of the Korean Olympic mascot Hodori were Americans, the same Americans who were frequently booed here by Koreans with hurt feelings over NBC's coverage of a boxing riot many days ago.
All that was forgotten, as it should have been.
As Park Seh Jik, president of the Seoul Olympic Organizing Committee (SLOOC), said in his closing speech, "The tears of winners and losers have flowed together here."
And the blood and sweat of the Korean people, among the most industrious on Earth, made this a highly successful event. According to Juan Antonio Samaranch, it was "The best and most universal Games in our history." Certainly, he said it with all due respect to Peter Ueberroth, whose Games in Los Angeles in '84 may have been the best, certainly weren't the most universal, but surely were the salvation of the Olympic movement.
Al McGuire, that internationally known basketball coach, television commentator and poor-man's Aristotle, preaches the value in "Celebrating the moment." Sunday night was South Korea's moment. Celebrate it did.
But there was so much more than meets the eye in the songs and the Lantern Dances and the flag ceremony and the torch dimming and the dazzling fireworks show that ended it all. More than anything else, this was an outpouring of relief and an end to the paranoia.
For years, every foreign visitor with any stature had been cornered upon his arrival and asked how he thought the Games would go. The questions were endless. The Korean press was obsessed with it. How will their country be perceived? Will people from other places come here and laugh? Can an Olympics really work here? Will foreigners not come because of the Red menace to the North, or because of a fear of rioting students and police with tear gas?
Never before has an Olympic Games been so closely intertwined with a national psyche.
Sunday night, all the questions were answered. It worked. It was a success. Played to full houses and smash reviews. This was 16 days of glory that benefited much more than a couple hundred athletes. This one gave an entire country a rush.
In the midst of the wonderful chaos playing on the field of Olympic Stadium, in front of a crowd of 70,000, the mind drifted to three people whose lives have been so affected by this thing they call the Olympics, and who do not understand it.
Jimmy Carter was the president of a country that, at his behest, turned its back on this 8 years ago. He had never paid attention to white guys carrying black guys on their shoulders, or guys in turbans high-fiving proper-looking British women. He never understood that the only guns that should be used at these things are at the shooting site.
Ben Johnson was the fastest man in the world just 8 days ago. But he saw this as a means to a larger Swiss bank account, rather than as the world's best outlet for fame, fortune and fair play. He never understood that the bitterest pill he could swallow was not to be able to do this, ever again.
Janet Evans was the darling of this Olympics because she was just Janet Evans. She never saw this as much more than a great trip and a fun time and a very big swim meet. She smiled 'cause she felt like smiling. She laughed 'cause she felt like it. She beat all those East Germans 'cause she was faster than they were. And she went home 'cause she had to catch up in algebra.
She never understood that she was supposed to stress out and choke and snarl at the press. She never understood that the Olympics had been Jimmy Carter's foreign policy and Ben Johnson's fast buck. She just understood that she was 17 years old and having a hell of a good time.
Which is why she would have loved it here Sunday night, where everybody acted like they were 17 again, and where a relieved and proud country just had a hell of a good time.