Host City: Seoul, South Korea
Venue(s): Gymnasium, Hanyang University, Seoul
Date Started: September 21, 1988
Date Finished: September 29, 1988
Format: Round-robin pools advanced teams to classification matches.
The teams qualified as follows: defending Olympic Champion (China), 1986 World Championships (Cuba, replacing China), host nation (Korea), European Champion (GDR [East Germany]), Asian Champion (Japan), North American Champion (United States), and South American Champion (Peru). Africa was allowed to enter a team, but there was no interest, and a qualifying tournament was held in Italy, won by the Soviet Union. When Cuba boycotted, it was replaced by Brazil.
China had won the last two World Championships, while the last four European titles were split among the Soviet Union and East Germany (GDR). Peru had been on the podium at the 1982 and 1986 Worlds, led by Cecilia Tait and Denise Fajardo, considered the best female players in the world. Cuba had been runners-up at the 1986 World Championships, but boycotted the 1988 Olympics. Eventually Peru and the USSR made it to the final, where they engaged in an epic match. Peru won the first two sets, 15-10, 15-12, and they led the third set, 12-6. The Soviets called a timeout and made several substitutions and fought back. They won the third and fourth sets, and won the first six points of the fifth set. But Peru would not quit, tying the score 7-7. Then the USSR pulled gradually ahead, only to see the Lazarus-like Peruvians take the lead at 15-14. After both teams fought off match points, the Soviet Union prevailed, 17-15 in five sets. The USSR was quite fortunate, as it had not originally qualified for the Olympic tournament, being added to the field after a qualifying tournament held only when no African team wished to compete.
Women's volleyball had become very popular in Peru, where it flourished in the poor neighborhoods of Lima, when fields were created for girls to play (boys played football). Peru hosted the 1982 World Championships (finishing second), and nearly won the first Peruvian gold in 40 years in Seoul. They were coached by a Korean (Park Man-Bok), the women's team coach since 1973. Three of the players later became members of parliament: Gaby Pérez, Cenaida Uribe, and Cecilia Tait. Tait was an orphan, who was adopted by a volleyball club at the age of 12.