10 Historic Sporting Events in London – 2. The 1948 Olympic Games…

July 11, 2012

We took a break from our Wednesday special looking at 10 historic sporting events in London but today we resume with a look at the 1948 Olympics.

The first Games held in 12 years due to outbreak of World War II, the XIV Olympiad were known as the “Austerity Games” due to the post-war rationing and economic climate. Britain had been named as host of the 1944 Games in June 1939 but following its cancellation, it was suggested as a venue for the 1948 and in 1946 was duly awarded them over other cities including a Lausanne in Switzerland and a number of US cities such as Los Angeles.

In so doing, London became the second city to host the Games twice (Paris had already done so in 1900 and 1924). Interestingly, when it hosts this year’s Games, London will become the first city to do so.

Due to the economic climate, no new venues were constructed for the Games and the athletes were accommodated in existing properties – RAF camps and London colleges – rather than a purpose-built Olympic village. The key venue was the Wembley Empire Exhibition Grounds – the opening ceremony (King George VI officially opened the Games), closing ceremony, athletics and football and hockey finals were all held in Wembley Stadium (pictured above as it is today – we’ll be looking at the “home of British football” in more detail in a later post) while fencing was held in the Palace of Engineering and swimming, diving and water polo at the Empire Pool.

Other London venues included Empress Hall at Earls Court for boxing, weightlifting and gymnastics, the Harringay Arena in north London for basketball and wrestling, the Herne Hill Velodrome for cycling and numerous football and hockey grounds including Arsenal Stadium in Highbury.

More than 4,000 athletes including 390 women took part in 136 events (Japan, Germany and the USSR were not represented while other countries such as Burma, Syria and Venezuela, were among the record-making 59 nations for the first time).

Memorable moments at the Games, which ran from late July into August, included 17-year-old Bob Mathias’ win in the decathlon only four months after taking up the sport (he remains the youngest man to win a men’s athletics event) and that of Dutch woman Fanny Blankers-Koen, the ‘flying housewife’, who won four gold medals in running events.

The Games were also notable for being the first to be shown on household televisions (although few people would have watched the Games this way), for introducing starting blocks for sprinters and for the use of the first covered pool – the Empire Pool at Wembley.

In a sign of things to come, the US won the most medals (84) followed by Sweden (44), and France (29). Great Britain came 12th with 23.

For more, check out the official Olympic website – www.olympic.org/london-1948-summer-olympics.

For more on Olympics history, check out London Olympics, 1908 and 1948.

PICTURE:  Courtesy of Wembley Stadium

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