At the 1988 Games in Korea politics once again denied boxing fans the opportunity to see the great Cuban side, as the Caribbean Island, who had previously boycotted the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, also stayed away from the Seoul Olympiad.
However, the USSR, who had also boycotted the 1984 Games, were back in the Olympic fold, and one of their boxers, Timofei Skriabin, denied Ireland’s Joe Lawlor.
Lawlor made a winning start, stopping Archer Fausto of Mozambique in frame two of his opening bout, but the Darndale BC flyweight bowed out on a unanimous decision to the Soviet, who would later to secure bronze.
Joe Lowey was the only Irish boxer to register a double in Seoul, with positive decisions over Iraq’s Mustafa Saleh and Nigeria’s Shana Mohammed seeing the Ledley Hall BC bantamweight through to the last 16. Lowey however went out on a split decision to Nurshan Altankhuyey of Mongolia.
Wexford’s Billy Walsh, the former Irish head coach, had beaten Korea’s Kyung-sup Song in a pre-Olympic tournament in Seoul a few months prior to the Games,with Walsh dropping and stopping the Asian. Both men were drawn against each other again at the Olympics, but this time Song got the decision after Walsh was forced to retire with a cut over his left eye in the second round. The Irish corner pleaded with the ringside doctor to allow the welterweight bout to continue, but the pleas fell on deaf ears.
Kieran Joyce, appearing in his second Olympiad, once again got off to a victorious start, this time out beating Tongan Fili Vaka in the opening frame. However, the Leesider then lost 3-2 to Uganda’s Fred Wanyama in the last 16, while Paul Fitzgerald beat Emilio Villega of the Dominican Republic but was then beaten by Great Britain’s Dave Anderson.
Wayne McCullough and Michael Carruth also won their opening contests in Seoul. Positive verdicts over Uganda’s Frederick Mutewata and Japan’s Shinju Higashi respectively saw both men have their hands raised in triumph. But the Irish duo were eliminated in the next phase following reversals to Canada’s Scott Olson and Sweden’s George Cramne, who would take home silver from Seoul. However, the experience of competing at the Seoul games proved invaluable for McCullough and Carruth as they would return for their second Olympics four years later.
The 1988 Games was the scene of probably the most outrageous decision in the entire history of Olympic boxing. Roy Jones of the USA beat the living daylights out of South Korean Park Si-Hun in the light-middleweight final – Jones actually found the target with 86 punches to Si-Hun’s 32 – but despite all the protests, consternation and clear cut evidence of daylight robbery, Si-Hun still stood on top of the podium, a silver medal winner with a gold medal around his neck.
The three judges that voted against Jones were later suspended and the American was presented with the Val Barker trophy as the best stylistic boxer of the 1988 Games, one of only three occasions when they award did not go to a gold medalist. The uproar over Jones’s final with Si-Hun would see the scoring system scrapped and a new computerised scoring system, “to make judges’ officiating more objective”, introduced in the lead up to the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.
Light Flyweight: Wayne McCullough (Albert Foundry)
Beat Frederick Mutewata (Uganda) 5-0
Lost to Scottie Olson (Canada) 0-5
Flyweight: Joe Lawlor (Darndale)
Beat Archer Fausto (Mozambique) KO2
Lost to bronze medalist Timofei Skriabin (USSR) 0-5
Bantamweight: John Lowey (Ledley Hall)
Beat Mustafa Saleh (Iraq) 5-0
Beat Shana Mohammed (Nigeria) 4-1
Lost to Nurshan Altankhuyey (Mongolia) 2-3
Featherweight: Paul Fitzgerald (Transport)
Beat Emilio Villegas (Dominican Republic) 4-1
Lost to Dave Anderson (Great Britain) 0-5
Lightweight: Michael Carruth (Drimnagh)
Beat Shinju Higashi (Japan) 5-0
Lost to eventual silver medalist George Cramne (Sweden) TKO1
Welterweight: Billy Walsh (St Joseph’s)
Lost to Kyung-sup Song (Korea) TKOI2
Middleweight: Kieran Joyce (Sunnyside)
Beat Fili Vaka (Tonga) TKO1
Lost to Fred Wanyama (Uganda).