Host City: Seoul, South Korea
Venue(s): Indoor Swimming Pool, Olympic Park, Seoul
Date Started: September 24, 1988
Date Finished: September 24, 1988
This was the first time that 50 metre freestyle was contested at the Olympics, although there had been a 50 yard freestyle back in 1904. The winner of that event, Hungarian [Zoltán Halmay] was not in Seoul to defend his title.
The two favorites were the American [Tom Jager] and [Matt Biondi], who had traded the world record between them since Jager first swam 22.40 in 1985. Biondi broke the mark in 1986 with 22.33, equaling that in 1987, but then Jager swam 22.32 to win the 1987 Pan Pacs, and improved to 22.23 at the 1988 US Nationals. Jager was a slight favorite, having won not only those two races, but also the 1986 Worlds. One swimmer not challenging was South African [Peter Williams], who could not be in Seoul because the IOC did not recognize South Africa, and also could not technically hold the world record, although he had the world’s best ever time of 22.18.
The final saw Biondi lead off the blocks, which was an upset in itself, as Jager had always been the faster starter. Biondi always finished faster, and with that start, he could not be caught, winning in a world record 22.14, with Jager finishing second in 22.36. Bronze went to Soviet [Gennady Prigoda], runner-up at the 1987 Europeans, edging out Switzerland’s [Dano Halsall], runner-up at the 1986 Worlds. This was Biondi’s sixth medal, and fourth gold, of the Seoul Olympics.