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Ben Johnson wowed the crowd with a world record in the 100m but the Canadian sprinter's joy turned to shame a couple of days later as he tested positive for an anabolic steroid and Carl Lewis was handed the gold medal.
Awarding the Games to South Korea was the IOC's bid to advocate democracy across the globe, but it prompted angry responses from North Korea and Cuba who boycotted the Olympics, along with Ethiopia and Nicaragua.
Another sprinter commanded headlines, with Florence Griffith-Joyner's flamboyant appearance coupled with her brilliance in the 100m and 200m winning her fans.
There was glory for Britain in the men's hockey, while Malcolm Cooper won gold at successive Olympics in the small bore rifle shooting. The third of Britain's gold medals went to swimmer Adrian Moorhouse in the 100m breaststroke.
Tennis returned to Olympic competition for the first time in 64 years and Steffi Graf capped a season that saw her win all four grand slams by taking gold.
Graf's fellow German Christa Luding-Rothenburger, won a silver medal in cycling to become the only person in history to win winter and summer medals in the same year (she bagged a medal in speed skating).
America's Matt Biondi was the poster-boy of the Games and he won seven medals in the pool, including five golds, while team-mate Greg Louganis won gold in the springboard event despite cracking his head on the board during a qualifying dive.
Russian great Sergei Bubka, the greatest ever pole vaulter, won his one and only Olympic medal when taking the gold.
There was controversy in the boxing as US great Roy Jones Jnr was beaten in contentious circumstances to home fighter Park Si-hun. Three judges were later suspended.