Site: London, England
Dates: July 29 - August 14
Total Athletes: 4,099
London appeared to be the logical choice for the 1948 Olympics, after having
lost the '44 Games because of the war. While other cities had bid for the
Games, the IOC had already set a precedent of placing the Games in an area
ravaged by war. Antwerp was chosen for the 1920 Games following World War I.
London was chosen as the 1944 site in '39, while the IOC was under the
Henri de Baillet Latour. However, months later, Belgium and other European
neighbors were overtaken by Germany's advances. Baillet Latour did not convene
another IOC session until after 1939 and for all intensive purposes, had turned
over power to Vice President Sigfrid Edstrom in 1945. Edstrom became acting IOC
president in 1942 following Baillet Latour's death. Under the direction of
Edstrom, London was given the nod for the '48 Games in 1945.
Naturally with Britain being the host, both Germany and Japan were not invited
and did not participate in the Games because of their participation in the war.
The IOC maintained its important flame relay ritual from Greece to Great
Britain. The flame stopped for services at the memorial stele of Baron Pierre
de Coubertin, the father of the modern-day Olympics, and again in Lausanne for
a memorial service at the grave containing the rest of his remains. The flame
managed to bypass Germany.
The 1948 Olympics registered the most nations and athletes in Olympic history,
with 59 nations and 4,099 athletes. Athletes were housed in the Royal Air Force
barracks just outside of town or in school buildings in Richmond Park. Wembley
Stadium was the site for most swimming and track and field events.
The famous event of the 1908 Olympics seemed to be re-enacted during these
Games. In 1908, Italy's Dorando Pietri had entered the stadium to complete the
final leg of the marathon. Pietri collapsed several times as American John
Haynes continued to close the gap. However, British officials, with a sharp
hatred for Americans, led Pietri across the finish line.
Similarly, Belgium's Etienne Gailly stumbled into Wembley to complete the
marathon and was wobbling badly before collapsing as Argentina's Delfa Cabrera
moved passed him to capture the gold. Great Britain's Thomas Richards took
Silver, but Gailly finally was able to regain his composure enough finish
Czech Emile Zatopoek would begin his string of Olympiad medals with a gold in
the 10,000 meters and silver in the 5,000 meters. Zatopoek would replace
legendary Paavo Nurmi as a folk hero, becoming a star in the next three
Fanny Blankers-Koen, a mother of four from the Netherlands, became the first
woman superstar of the Olympics by capturing four gold medals, in the 100 and
200-meter sprints, the 80-meter hurdles and the 4 x 100 meter relay. Lost in
the stardom of Blankers-Koen was Micheline Ostermeyer of France, who captured
a pair of gold medals in the discuss and shot put and a bronze in the high
Probably the best finish came in the 100-meter sprint, in which American
Harrison Dillard won the gold medal. Dillard, who had been the world record
holder in the 110-meter hurdles, hit the lead hurdle and failed to make the
U.S. team in that event at the qualifiers. Listed as just the third qualifier
for the event, he narrowly edged out teammate Norwood 'Barney" Ewell in a photo
finish for the gold. Dillard could have won a second gold medal had the 4 x 100
U.S. relay team not been disqualified for improper passing of the baton outside
the legal limit. Great Britain, who was the second-place winner, was given the
gold and unlike 1908, where there was bitter hatred and outrage directed
towards American, the Brits sat silence as the disqualification was announced.
Seventeen-year old Bob Mathias gained great notoriety by winning the
decathalon, enduring a rigorous 12-hour, rain-marred final day, in a day
dominated by pouring rains.
Britain was won just three gold medals during the Games and finished just 12th
overall in medal count, the worst showing by a host country in the modern