Host City: Seoul, South Korea
Date Started: September 17, 1988
Date Finished: September 30, 1988
Participants: 236 (143 men and 93 women) from 14 countries
Youngest Participant: Žana Lelas (18 years, 115 days)
Oldest Participant: Kim Mar-Yeon (35 years, 84 days)
Most Medals (Athlete): 72 athletes with 1 medal
Most Medals (Country): 3 countries with 2 medals
After the boycotts of 1980 and 1984 all the best basketball teams in the world competed for the first time at the Olympics in 12 years. The tournament was held at the Jam-sil Che-yuk-gwan, or Jamsil Gymnasium, in the Seoul Sports Complex. The arena was built in the late 1970s and later became a popular venue for concerts and entertainment events.
The format for the men’s tournament was the same as in 1984 with two six-team groups, played in a round-robin format, with the top four teams in each group advancing to the knock-out phase, starting with quarter-finals. The 12 teams in the men’s tournament qualified as follows – defending champion United States; host nation Korea; European Olympic Qualifying Tournament (Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Spain); Americas Olympic Qualifying Tournament (Brazil, Puerto Rico, Canada); 1987 African Championships (Central African Republic, Egypt); 1987 Asian Championships (China); and 1987 Oceanian Championships (Australia).
In a major upset, the United States did not win the gold medal, losing in the semi-finals to the Soviet Union, with the Soviets then defeating Yugoslavia in the final game. Some major changes would be in story for the 1992 Olympic tournament. The Soviet Union would break up into its constituent republics and Russia would never be the dominant force that the Soviets were, although Lithuania would become a basketball power. Yugoslavia would also split up into Serbia and Croatia, but they would be unable to compete as a team at Barcelona in 1992 because of United Nations’ sanctions against the nation. Finally, the United States, upset with losing the 1988 gold medal, and fearing that they were losing their dominance, would play with an NBA All-Star team in Barcelona, dubbed the “Dream Team,” and usually considered the greatest basketball team ever assembled. This was possible because by 1992, there would be no limitations against professionals competing in Olympic basketball.
The women’s tournament was expanded to eight teams, with four-team groups playing round-robins to determine the top two teams in each group to advance to the semi-finals. The Soviet Union had been the dominant team in women’s basketball since the late 1950s but that status had now been usurped by the United States, which repeated as gold medalists, defeating Yugoslavia in the final game.
The eight women’s teams were chosen as follows – defending champion United States, host nation Korea, and the top six teams from the World Olympic Qualifying Tournament (Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, China, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Australia).