Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The 1948 London Olympic Games

Following the dark years of World War Two, when two successive Olympic Games were missed (1940 and 1944), a triumphant return was held with the London Olympic Games of 1948.  59 Nations participated but Germany and Japan, under Allied military occupation at the time, were not permitted to compete. The USSR chose not to do so.


 The official logo for the 1948 Olympics (Image from Wikipedia Commons)

That the games were held in London was a story in itself. Before the war the city had been selected to host the 1944 games but the war derailed this plan. The war had been over for nearly 3 years by 1948, but shortages of all types persisted in England, including food, petrol and accommodation and many were sceptical that London could successfully stage the Games.

However using much improvisation, the Organising Committee overcame all the problems. In marked contrast to the massive expenditure of recent Olympics, the London budget was miniscule. A special Olympic Village was deemed too expensive and instead, male athletes were housed in existing wartime RAF camps and female athletes in various London Colleges. As a result of these measures the 1948 Olympics became known as the “Austerity Games”.

On a sparkling summer day on 29th July, the Games were opened at Wembley Stadium before a crowd of 85,000 people and presided over by King George V1. The athletes paraded through the stadium, led by Greece and followed last of all by the athletes of the home country – the United Kingdom. And for the first time an Opening Ceremony was televised live and transmitted across the BBC network.

 An advertising poster for the Games (Image from Wikipedia Commons)

The Games concluded on 14th August 1948 and proved to be a resounding success. For the war weary world that participated they marked the start of an era of peace and general prosperity for the next decade.

Later this year London will become the first ever city to host the summer Olympics three times – in 1908, 1948 and 2012.

Olympic showcase:

One of the star athletes of the London Games of 1948 was the extraordinary Dutch athlete Fannie Blankers – Koen, who was then the mother of two children and competing at thirty years of age.

             Statue of Fannie Blankers – Koen in a park at Rotterdam
(Image from Wikipedia Commons)

Nick-named the “Flying Housewife” she won four athletic gold medals at London – the 100 and 200 metre sprints, the 80 metre hurdles and was also a member of the victorious Dutch team in the 4x100 metre relay.

And along the way she proved several people wrong – before the games it was said that thirty was too old for elite athletics, and that anyway she should be home looking after her family. Remarkably it was later revealed that during her London triumphs she had been pregnant with her third child, eventually born in early 1949.

Blankers-Koen had competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics as an 18 year old, and following London also competed at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952. She also ended up winning 58 national titles in Holland and was voted the “Female Athlete of the Century” by the International Association of Athletics Federations in 1999.

Her stellar career finally ended with her death in January 2004.

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