When the Games arrived in Seoul, the superpowers were back, but the event wasn't quite free of boycotts and it would be remembered for one of the biggest sporting scandals in the history of the Olympics.
The boycott was by North Korea, in protest at rejection of its demands to host half the events. Significant among their sympathisers who also stayed away were Cuba and Ethiopia, both missing their second successive Olympics through political posturing.
A new Olympic flag made from Korean silk flew above the stadium, but there was a mishap during the opening ceremony when a number of the doves released as a symbol of world peace were burned alive as the flame lit the cauldron.
However, the biggest controversy of these Games surrounded Ben Johnson, the Canadian who sprinted to gold in the men's 100 metres in spectacular fashion, only to later be exposed as a drugs cheat. Carl Lewis was upgraded from silver to gold and also won the long jump as he continued to cement his place in Olympic history.
Kenya's men shone over the longer distances, with gold at 800m, 1,500m and 5,000m, plus gold and silver in the 3,000m steeplechase and silver in the marathon, while Sergey Bubka was the pole vault champion. Remarkably, it was the only Olympic gold medal for the man who notched six world titles for the Soviet Union and, later, Ukraine.
In women's athletics these were the Games of 'Flo-Jo' — Florence Griffith Joyner — who completed the sprint double and was also a member of the United States teams who struck gold in the 4x100m relay and silver in the 4x400m. Meanwhile, her sister-in-law, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, claimed the long jump and the heptathlon.
East German Heike Drechsler came close to upsetting the family party, completing a remarkable achievement of her own with bronze in the100m and 200m, and silver in the long jump.
In their last Games before German reunification, East Germany were second in the medals table. State-sponsored drugs programmes will forever leave a question mark over the validity of their achievements, but the medals still stand and the six golds registered by swimmer Kristin Otto were the most by any competitor at these Olympics and a women's record for any sport at the Games.
Also making a final appearance were the Soviet Union, whose most successful performers came in the men's gymnastics events. Vladimir Artemov collected four golds and a silver, while Dmitri Bilozertchev picked up three golds and a silver.
Cuba's absence from the boxing competitions in Los Angeles had handed the United States the chance to land nine out of the 12 gold medals, but in Seoul the gold medals were shared between eight different nations.
Notable successes were Lennox Lewis, who triumphed at super-heavyweight for Canada, and home fighter Park Si-Hun, who was awarded one of the most controversial victories in Olympic boxing history over rising star Roy Jones Junior.
Reports at the time indicated Park apologised to Jones after the fight and even the referee admitted he found the decision of the judges impossible to fathom. The result stood, but recognition of the error came with the award to Jones of the Val Barker Trophy for the best stylist of the tournament.
Further controversy surrounded another Korean boxer, Jung-Il Byun, who refused to leave the arena after ending up on the wrong end of a decision in the bantamweight division. He remained alone in the ring for more than an hour, long after officials had turned off the lights and left the building.
Diving legend Greg Louganis in actionTop three performances
1-Florence Griffith-Joyner (USA) - Her 100 and 200 metres world records have not subsequently been approached let alone broken. Griffith-Joyner, who never failed a dope test, retired suddenly the following year after random drugs testing was introduced and died 10 years later.
2-Greg Louganis (USA) -Retained his springboard diving title with stitches inserted his head after hitting after the board in the preliminaries.
3-Vladimir Artemov (URS) -Won four gold medals in gymnastics - horizontal bar, parallel bars, all-around individual and team combined exercises.
Did you know?
Of the top five finishers in the men's 100m final, only the USA's Calvin Smith never failed a drugs test in his career. The other four runners were Ben Johnson, Carl Lewis, Linford Christie and Dennis Mitchell.
Live doves were released during the lighting of the flame for the final time, after many were burned alive.
Roy Jones Jr won the Val Barker Trophy for the best pound-for-pound boxer at the Games, despite losing the gold medal bout Park Si-Hun in a profoundly controversial 3-2 judges' decision.