World of Sport

Olympic history: London 1948

World of Sport

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The opening ceremony


The 1940 Olympics were awarded first to Tokyo and then, after the outbreak of war between Japan and China, to Helsinki. They were cancelled after the outbreak of the Second World War.

The 1944 Games were awarded to London and then postponed as the conflict continued. They finally took place in 1948 with the world at peace but the economy in pieces. Rationing was still in place and for the second time Great Britain delivered a cut-price Olympics.

More than 4,000 athletes attended from 59 countries but there was no shiny new Olympic Village; the men stayed in Royal Air Force or Army barracks and the women were upgraded to colleges. Some reports indicate that the Dutch delivered 100 tons of fruit to London for the Games, with the Danes contributing 160,000 eggs.

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A photo finish shows Harrison Dillard winning the men's 100m

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1948 Olympic Games poster


The action centred on Wembley Stadium, and TV pictures were beamed to about 80,000 receivers in the area. Germany and Japan were excluded from the event. Newcomers included Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, whose success at the Games has been modest, and Jamaica, who have made rather more impact.

In the absence of Japan, the United States cleaned up in the swimming events, winning all the men's gold medals. And with the Germans only able to watch from afar there were opportunities for others in the equestrian competitions, including two gold medals for Mexico, their first in Olympic history.

There was no one from Russia either, with the result that Finland claimed six gold medals for gymnastics and Switzerland three.

The United States finished top of the medals table with Sweden runners-up, the Swedish collection including five gold medals for athletics, five for wrestling and four for canoeing, plus the football title.

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Charles Dumas makes a clearance in the men's high jump

In athletics, Harrison Dillard failed to make the United States team for the hurdles, in which he had appeared almost unbeatable prior to the trials. So he entered the 100m instead and won it. Bob Mathias pulled off another shock for the US when he won the decathlon at the age of just 17.

The Czech distance runner Emil Zátopek announced his arrival with silver in the 5,000m and gold in the 10,000m. Jamaica theirs with gold and silver in the 400m, and another silver at 800m.

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Emil Zatopek claims gold in the men's 10,000m

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Fanny Blankers-Koen wins the 80m hurdles.

But no one could match Fanny Blankers-Koen. At 18 she had competed in Berlin in the sprint relay and the high jump, finishing out of the medals. Any fears that the war had deprived her of a chance of Olympic glory proved groundless. She arrived in London and went home to the Netherlands with four gold medals and a new nickname — The Flying Housewife.

After winning the 100m, Blankers-Koen set Olympic records in the 80m hurdles and the 200m, a new event for women. In then winning the sprint relay she became the only woman to secure four athletics gold medals at the same Games, a record which still stands.

Blankers-Koen's achievement may have been all the greater. She arrived in London as the world record holder for the long jump and high jump, but in keeping with the theme of the Games decided to ration her effort and concentrate on the four events that brought gold.

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The podium for the women's discus - French Micheline Ostermeyer (C) wins gold.

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