- Monday, 09 April 2012
After a period of six years, in which most of the world had been locked in World War II, the Olympic games were revived. War had caused both the 1940 and 1944 Olympics to be cancelled. However, in October 1945 London applied to stage the XIV Olympiad in 1948.
The privilege was granted in March 1946 and in just over two years, the entire games were planned and staged. A remarkable achievement, given that in these post war years,the economic situation did not make things easy for the organising committee.
Fortunately London had the the buildings of the 1924 British Empire Exhibition at it's disposal. The Empire Stadium was the scene of the athletics, the soccer, the hockey and the equestrian show jumping. The nearby Empire Pool was able to accommodate both the swimming and the boxing; a special bridge was built to enable the boxing to take place.
Haringay Arena hosted the basketball; Herne Hill, in South London was used for the cycling events and the yachting took place at Tor Bay in Devon.
Originally the gymnastic events were to be held in the Empire Stadium but, once again, inclement weather forced them indoors to the Empress Hall in the Earl's Court exhibition complex. The weightlifting and wrestling events had already been held there.
A total of 59 countries sent 4,030 men and 438 women to compete. They were housed in and around London at special centres; there was not enough money available to build an Olympic Village. With Great Britain's war wounds barely healed, it was not surprising that Germany and Japan were not represented!
USSR were not yet affiliated to the International Olympic Committee and therefore could not compete.
The Empire Stadium running track had not been used as such for twenty years. It had actually been covered with a greyhound running track. The laying of a cinder running track and other "temporary" works cost the organising committee £80,000. Loss of revenue for the greyhound racing was calculated at £90,000 and the proprietors were compensated accordingly.
There was intensive press and radio coverage and, for the first time, live television coverage of the track events. Belgium, Czechoslovakia and Jamaica all won their first Olympic athletics gold medals. There were 600 men and almost 150 women entrants in the track and field events.
The first event was the heats for the 400 metre hurdles. Sadly this had to be delayed for more than 1/2 hour because the marks for spacing the hurdles had not been laid down. Not a good start; however the day improved dramatically, as the 1000 metre race was won by Emil Zatopek of Czechoslovakia in a time of 29 minutes 59.6 seconds.
He was the first man to run this distance in under 30 minutes. Three days later he lost the 5000 metre race to the Belgian athlete Gaston Reiff by a mere 0.2 of a second!
The marathon was very exciting and won by Delfo Cabrera from Argentina. (see image above) His time was some 21 minutes faster than the marathon of the 1908 olympics which was won by John Hayes of USA.
USA won three of the eight field events. They also won the 4x100 metres relay. At first it was announced that they had been disqualified and the medals were to be awarded to the British team.
The crowd were not happy with this decision because they felt uneasy about a home victory being earned in this way. There was great relief when the decision was reversed and the medals were awarded to USA.
The women's events were very much dominated by the Netherlands athlete, Fanny Blankers-Koen who won four gold medals in the nine event programme. She literally "ran away" with the 100 metres, the 200 metres, the 4x100 metre relay and the 80 metre hurdles! Hardly surprising that she became known as Fanny the flying Dutchwoman!
Despite the poor weather - rainy and cold on several days- the track and field events took place before a very interested and dedicated crowd. There were no "incidents" to sour the happy atmosphere of the first Olympic games for 12 years.
Swimming events took place in the Empire pool, which had been built in 1934 for the British Empire games. It had been closed to aquatic activities since World War II, but it was reopened and proved to be a magnificent arena for the Olympic swimmers. The absence of German and Japanese contestants served to open the way for the American male swimmers, who won all the events!
In the women's events, however, the Americans did not have such luck because Denmark and the Netherlands proved to be strong adversaries. The gold medals for diving all went to USA. Italy were delighted to win the Polo gold medal for the first time; as usual the tournament was criticised, for the amount of fouling and much inefficient refereeing!
Sweden was announced winner of the Dressage competition, and no-one would have guessed that later they would be stripped of their medals. It was discovered that the member of the team who finished 6th was not an officer and thus ineligible to compete. So the medals were later awarded to France!
Of the 59 competing nations, 17 failed to place a competitor in the first 6 in any event.The USA won 35 gold medals and Sweden won 13.
The significance of this the XXIV Olympiad was not to be measured in terms of world records or gold medals, or even national domination, but in the way that countries around the world had come together, in London, to compete in a friendly and sporting manner. The scars of war were scarcely healed, but the Olympics did much towards restoring a shattered world to the sanity it so badly needed!
I was not born at the the time of the 1908 Olympics and I was too young to understand about the 1948 Olympics, but I certainly hope to be around at the 2012 games to witness some of the many successes.
As I write this excitement is mounting and the country is curious as to what the 30th Olympiad will bring!
It is only a few short months until the opening ceremony when the words of Baron Pierre de Coubertin will be displayed on the scoreboard reminding us all that the important thing in the Olympic games is not winning, but taking part.
GOOD LUCK to all those involved in the XXX Olympiad, London 2012.
by Margaret Colquhoun
We look forward to hearing from you. Ed.
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