London Olympics 1948
World War II had just ended and Britain one of the so called victors was on her knees both financially and morally. Britain at this time was still suffering under strict rationing regulations and men returning from the war front could not find work or in some cases even a house to live in. In an attempt to bolster moral the 14th Olympic games were hosted in London. Times were so hard that these games become known as the “Austerity Games". This is that story.
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Hitler and Goring at the Berlin Olympics
Because of Word War II the Olympic Games had been put on hold for 12 years and would be the first Olympic Games held since the 1936 Games held in Berlin.The 1940 Games had been scheduled for Tokyo, and then Helsinki; the 1944 Games had been provisionally planned for London. This was the second occasion that London had hosted the Olympic Games; the city had previously been the venue in 1908. As we all now know it would be another 44 years until the Olympic games would again return to London making the United Kingdom the only country on earth to host the games three times.and with the cost of the opening ceremony alone, a staggering $43 million it may well be the last. A note of interest: There are more military personal deployed at the London Olympic 2012 games than there are deployed in Afghanistan, in-fact, this is the largest deployment of troops in London since the II World War.
The Opening Ceremony
1948 Summer Olympics
The 29th July was a brilliant sunny day making it wonderful for the 85,000 fans packed into the newly renovated “Wembley Stadium”. To entertain this throng of people (the largest crowd to gatherer in the UK since VE Day, Victory in Europe) while they waited for the Olympic organizers to arrive, Army Bands showed off there skills with precision marching and popular tunes of the day continuing until 2.35pm when the royal trumpeter sounded the alert of the arrival of the Royal family. In the Royal family were King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary and most of the other junior members of the Royal Family (the largest gathering of Royal’s since the end of the War).At 2.45 PM.exactly the competitors entered the stadium in a procession that took just 50 minutes to complete this compared to nearly 2hours, in the 2012 London Olympics happening at this time. Lord Burghley began his welcome speech. I have copied this word for word and it is important to remember that World War II had just ended and much of London still remained in ruins.
The Opening Speech
Your Majesty: The hour has struck. A visionary dream has today become a glorious reality. At the end of the worldwide struggle in 1945, many institutions and associations were found to have withered and only the strongest had survived. How, many wondered, had the great Olympic Movement prospered?
The lighting of the Olympic Flame
Lighting the Olympic Cauldren
At 4 pm, the time shown on Big Ben on the London Games symbol, the King declared the Games open and 2,500 pigeons were set free and the Olympic Flag raised at the end of the stadium. Once raised the Royal Horse Artillery sounded a 21-gun salute and the last runner in the Torch Relay ran a lap of the track (to save money the track was created with cinders from the domestic coal fires of the City of Leicester). He then climbed the steps to the Olympic cauldron turned to the crowd and saluted then lit the Olympic flame once again bowing to the crowds who by this time were ecstatic including the King, who was seen gesturing to his family to join in. The National Anthem was then sung and the massed athletes turned and marched out of the stadium, led by Greece, followed by Britain. The whole ceremony was broadcasted by the BBC both on Radio and Television worldwide. For the rights to broadcast these games the BBC were paid the handsome sum of £1000 (in today’s money that is $1574 US.
The Athletic events in Wembley Stadium and first Medals.
Parade of Athletes
There were 22 athletic events held at the Wembley stadium 24 were for men and nine for women. There were a total of 754 athletes from 53 countries participating in the athletics portion of the games. One of the more flamboyant competitors was a lady called Fanny Blankers-Koen of the Netherlands. She was a 30-year old mother of three children and had the nickname of “The Flying Housewife”. She would go on to win four gold medals, in the 100 meters, 200 meters, 80 meter high hurdles, and 4 x 100 meter relay. She would have probably one more as she was the world record holder in the long jump and high jump but at that time, female athletes were limited to just three individual events. Duncan White won the first medal of any kind for Sri Lanka, when he finished second in the 400 meter hurdles, and Arthur Wint became the first Jamaican to win an Olympic gold medal, in the men’s 400 meters he also won silver in the men’s 800 meters.
The first Gold medal ever won by an African American woman in the world
Athletes standing for Nationl Anthem
This distinction went to an Alice Coachman win a gold she one a gold medal for a jump of 1.68 m. She was also the only American woman to win an athletics gold medal during these games. On her return to America though she was virtually ignored but continued in athletics for many years.
The Dramatic Marathon.
Athletes standing for Nationl Anthem
The day was very hot and athletes did not have the training regimes as athletes have today. In the searing heat Etienne Gailly of Belgium entered the stadium,exhausted and nearly unable to run falling many times as he made the last lap of the stadium Delfo Cabrera of Argentinian and Tom Richards of Great Britain passed him both stopping to offer him aid, which he refused. Delfo would go on to win the Gold and Tom Richards the Silver. Gailly did managed to recover enough to complete the lap and crossed the finish line to thunderous applause. Another event of note was the decathlon and this was one by a 17 year old American named Bob Mathias of the United States. He became the youngest ever Olympic gold medalist in athletics and when asked how he would celebrate he replied: “I’ll start shaving, I guess.”
Epilogue and Austerity controls
Complaints by Athletes concerning Austerity
As mentioned above things were so tough in the UK at the time with rationing still in place the 1948 Olympics came to be known as the “Austerity Games”. Because of there training regimes athletes were though given increased rations, the same rations as those received by dockers and miners. But even this ration was deemed to be of very little help as it would only increase the normal ration of 2,600 calories a day to 5,467 calories a day and apparently many Mothers and Fathers gave up there rations to support there children at the games. Building an Olympic Village was also out of the question so athletes were housed in existing accommodation. Male competitors stayed at RAF camps in Uxbridge, West Drayton and Richmond; female competitors in London colleges. It is really thought provoking to think that 44 years later during the London Olympics 2012 that many countries in Europe including England are suffering under strict Austerity controls that these Olympics are once again being held in England.
Credits: Wikipedia for Pics and research. Google Pictures for Pics and my trusty old books.