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S. Korea beats Japan in race for 1988 Olympics

South Korea believes it may have made an important contribution toward saving the Olympic movement from itself.

The International Olympic Committee's decision, on an astonishingly wide margin, to award the 1988 summer games to Seoul is hailed here as ''opening up a new road for the Olympic ideal for broader and healthier progress.''

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Won Kyong Lee, secretary-general of the Olympic Preparatory Committee, says: ''The IOC was bold enough to give the first-ever chance to a developing country to stage the Olympic Games. This should be an encouragement to others. In the past, the Olympics have been limited to the advanced countries, and there aren't many who are keen to be hosts anymore in view of the crippling costs.''

How then can South Korea possibly afford to stage anything so ambitious?

The Koreans say the secret lies in incorporating the Olympics firmly into the nation's overall economic development.

With six years still to go, most of the facilities required for the 25 Olympic events are already under construction, along with new road and rail access to the sites. It was this aspect that seems to have persuaded the IOC to vote 52 to 27 in favor of Seoul, to the utter astonishment of its only rival, the Japanese city of Nagoya, which was virtually celebrating its victory in advance.

According to one Korean official, the difference between the two candidates' approaches was simple: ''The IOC could physically view games facilities in Seoul; in Nagoya, they were only on paper.'' The reason for this, Mr. Lee insists, is that Seoul began building the various sports facilities originally without any thought to bidding for the Olympics.

''If we had started building after the IOC vote, maybe it would have been an impossible undertaking.''

The main stadium will be completed in 1984 and will receive a thorough testing when Seoul plays host to the Asian Games in 1986.

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Most of the facilities are south of the Han River, away from the overcrowded city center, in a newly developing area of high-rise apartments.

The Korean aim is to ensure that there are no financial ''white elephants.'' The complex is designed to be used constantly by Seoul's 9 million citizens and is expected to pay for itself fairly quickly.

A regatta site is being developed by the business community farther along the Han, which is to become a public recreation site. The Olympic village is also under private-sector control, with its apartments initially for rental and then later for sale to meet the capital's insatiable demand for more housing.

Apart from the various sports complexes, construction is already under way on four more subway lines in Seoul, while new highways are planned to circle the traffic-congested city.

The Olympics, therefore, have already given the domestic economy a major boost at an important moment. The strong construction boom, for example, is helping to lift the economy out of the doldrums of the past couple of years.

The construction boom has only just begun. The Transportation Ministry, for example, plans to build another 23,500 hotel rooms to meet 1988's expected tourist boom.

But businesses are eschewing too many luxury hotels for foreigners that may prove less profitable in the long run than smaller, family-type establishments.

The Olympics is seen by major business groups as providing a vital liftoff to the still immature tourism and leisure industries. The Kukje and Ssangyong business groups, for example, have announced plans to build condominium or villa-type hotel facilities at various popular tourist spots around the country.

The chance to establish Korea as a major supplier of sporting goods to the international market is also being firmly grasped, while the electronics industry sees the games as providing a chance to break into higher technology areas.

The IOC vote has also given a vital lift to national morale. There is considerable pride that Korea's achievements are now being recognized by the world at large - which also helps enhance the prestige of the country's new Fifth Republic.

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