The song's melody was inspired by the timeless figure of Elvis Presley, with Hammond imagining it as being sung by Presley at the opening of the Olympics. It appeared on the album 1988 Summer Olympics Album: One Moment in Time, produced in conjunction with NBC Sports' coverage of the Seoul games and which, in addition to Whitney Houston who sang it live at the main ceremony, also featured artists such as: The Four Tops, The Bee Gees, Eric Carmen, Taylor Dayne and the film composer John Williams. The track is an anthem for believing in yourself against all odds as Houston asks for "One moment in time/when I'm racing with destiny/Then, in that one moment of time, I will feel eternity".
The video for the song does not show Houston performing the song but is a basic collage of clips from previous Olympic ceremonies. It opens with footage of Olympic games from 1924 and 1964 until the lighting of the cauldron from the 1988 games is shown which fades from black and white to color. As the song plays throughout, footage from the games in 1988 and 1984 are shown. When the chorus is sung for the last time, midway through it, scenes of the awarding from 1984 and 1988 are shown. The song video ends with the 1988 Olympic Cauldron blazing.
"One Moment in Time" was released by Arista Records in August 1988 as the first single from The 1988 Summer Olympics Album: One Moment in Time, the soundtrack to the Games in Seoul, South Korea. The song debuted at number 57 on the Billboard Hot 100, the issue dated September 10, 1988. Nine weeks later, it peaked at number five on the chart, the issue date of November 12, 1988, becoming Houston's tenth top 10 hit on the Hot 100, and spent 17 weeks on the chart. It also debuted on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs (formerly "Hot Black Singles") at number 78, the issue dated September 17, 1988, and six weeks later reached a peak of 22, her lowest position on the R&B chart at the time. On the issue date of November 5, 1988, the single peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary chart, making it her seventh number-one single on the chart, and stayed on the top for two weeks. It ranked number 89 on the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End chart of 1988.
Worldwide, it was a big hit. In the United Kingdom, the song entered the UK Singles Chart at number 24, the week ending date of September 24, 1988, and within four weeks of its release reached the top position, a peak it maintained for two weeks, becoming Houston's third UK number-one single. The single was certified Silver by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) for shipments of 200,000 copies on October 1, 1988. According to The Official Charts Company, the single has sold 400,000 copies in the country. In Germany, it debuted at number 58 on the Media Control Top 100 Singles chart, the week dated September 26, 1988, and the following week went straight into the top ten. On October 24, 1988, the fifth week of its release, the song reached number one on the chart and stayed there for two weeks, making it her second German number-one hit. The single was certified Gold for shipments of 250,000 copies or more by the Bundesverband Musikindustrie (BVMI) in 1988. Across Europe, "One Moment in Time" was successful, topping the European Hot 100 Singles chart for five weeks. It peaked inside the top five in Austria, Belgium, Italy, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland, and reached top ten in France and the Netherlands. But the single became a minor hit in Oceania region, peaking at number 49 and 34 on the singles chart, in Australia and New Zealand, respectively. The song re-entered the UK Singles Chart for week ending February 18, 2012 following Houston's death.
Also following Houston's death, Entertainment Weekly published a list of her 25 best songs and ranked it #14 because: "The Seoul Olympics needed an anthem, and Houston rose to meet the challenge with this majestic carpe diem chest-thumper. The song, a staple of sports montages, yielded one of Houston's all-time best performances at the 1989 Grammys ceremony."
On February 22, 1989, Houston performed the song at the opening of the 31st Grammy Awards, where she was nominated for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female. This performance was broadcast live on CBS and released on the videos and CD: Grammy's Greatest Moments, Vol II (1994), and Whitney: The Greatest Hits (2000). She also performed the song during Sammy Davis Jr.'s 60th Anniversary Celebration in Show Business, taped at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on November 13, 1989 and broadcast on ABC, February 4, 1990. "One Moment in Time" was performed once more by Houston at the 1997 U.S. Open Tennis Championships: the Arthur Ashe Stadium Inauguration Ceremonies on August 25, 1997. While the past US Open tennis champions appeared on screen, she dedicated the song to the legendary tennis players and about 23,000 audience.
A British pop group, The Shadows did an instrumental version on their 1989 album, Steppin' to the Shadows: 16 Great Tracks As Only the Shadows Can Play Them. In 2010, Leapy Lee released a new version of "One Moment in Time" on Little Arrows II, his first recording since 1970.
Appropriately for the song's origins as an Olympic anthem, Olympic gold medal-winning heptathlete Denise Lewis selected the song as one of her eight Desert Island Discs in February 2012. That same month, the song featured at the beginning of the 2012 Brit Awards at London's O2 Arena in tribute to Houston who had passed away earlier in the month by playing the song accompanied with a 30-second-video montage of her music videos.