Friday, July 13, 2012

Olympics: Brief History of the Modern Games - 1948 London

The Games of the XIV Olympiad were held in London in 1948. The War years meant there was a 12-year gap and the austerity of the time saw a much less ostentatious affair to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Hence the Games were dubbed the Austerity Games and no new venues were built with the athletes housed in existing accommodation instead of an Olympic Village. Male athletes lived at an army camp in Uxbridge and the women were housed at Southlands College in dormitories. A record 59 nations were represented by 4,104 athletes in 19 sport disciplines. Germany and Japan were not invited and the USSR chose not to send any athletes. Because of Rationing the responsibility to feed all the athletes fell on the countries they came from and participants brought their own food. Surplus food supplies were later donated to British hospitals. At the end of competition the British athletes were given free Bovril and the males received complementary Y-fronts.

King George VI declared the Games open and 2,500 pigeons were set free as the Olympic Flag was raised to the echo of a a 21-gun salute by the Royal Horse Artillery.

Dutch sprinter, Fanny "The Flying Housewife" Blankers-Koen won four gold medals in athletics (100 metres, 200 metres, 80 metre high hurdles, and 4 x 100 metre relay) . As the then world record holder in the long jump and high jump she may have been able to win further medals but, at this time, female athletes were limited to three individual events.

Alice Coachman became the first African American woman to win a gold medal in track and field with a jump of 1.68 m (5' 6¼"). She also was the only American woman to win an athletics gold medal during the 1948 Olympics.

The United States won the 400-meter relay by a full eighteen feet but a judge ruled one of the U.S. team had passed the baton outside of the passing zone. As a consequence the team was automatically disqualified. The medals were handed out, the national anthems were played. The United States officially protested the ruling and after careful review of the films and photographs taken of the baton pass, the judges decided that the pass had been completely legal; thus the United States team was the real winner. The British team had to give up their gold medals and received silver medals (which had been given up by the Italian team). The Italian team then received the bronze medals which had been given up by the Hungarian team.

The marathon saw a dramatic finish with the first man to enter the stadium, Etienne Gailly of Belgium, exhausted and nearly unable to run. While he was struggling, Argentinian athlete Delfo Cabrera and Tom Richards of Great Britain passed him, with Cabrera winning the gold. Gailly managed to recover enough to cross the line for the bronze.

The decathlon was won by 17-year old Bob Mathias of the United States. He became the youngest ever Olympic gold medallist in athletics at the age of 17.

Starting blocks for athletes in sprint races (100m to 400m) were first introduced in 1948 Summer Games.

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