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History of the Olympic Games
 

1948

Site: London, England
Dates: July 29 - August 14
Nations: 59
Total Athletes: 4,099
Sports: 17

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 direction of 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 third.

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 Olympids.

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 jump.

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 Olympics.


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