London Olympics 1948 - Interesting Facts

London 1948 Olympic Games - Olympiad XIVLondon Olympics 1948

Here is a brief history of the XIV games which was held in London.  Incidentally, Olympiads XII and XIII were cancelled.  Coming so soon after the end of World War II the 1948 London Olympics showed little of the pageantry of the Berlin Games.  It was also less colourful because Germany and Japan were barred from competition, and the Soviet Union not yet embraced the Olympics.

The Olympic Games was also held in London in 1908, and is scheduled again in 2012.

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Fanny Blankers-Koen 'The Flying Housewife'

Yet out of these unassuming Games came one of the most remarkable achievements: the four-gold performance of Fanny Blankers-Koen, a 32-year-old mother of two from the Netherlands. On the fifth day of competition, when an American sweep of the men's high hurdles led coverage in the Times, Blankers-Koen was deemed 'remarkable' for her victory in the 80-meter hurdles, having previously won the 100-meter dash.

At 30, Fanny was the oldest woman in track and field at those Olympics, and also the most successful. She ran 11 races in seven days and won them all.  They produced four gold medals in the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes, the 80-meter hurdles and the 4x100-meter relay.  Fanny won the 200m by 7 meters, a result that is unlikely to be repeated anytime soon.  However, she almost quit after two gold medals because she missed her son and daughter and wanted to go home, but her husband talked her into staying.

In 1936, Fanny emerged from the Berlin Olympics with fifth place in the high jump, fifth in the 4x100-meter relay and Jesse Owens's autograph. She kept training during World War II, even when the Germans sent many of her friends to concentration camps.

Other Notable Performances At the London 1948 Olympics

Aladár Gerevich had won medals for Hungary before the War in both 1932 and 1936, and comfortably won gold in London with an undefeated record.  Gerevich went on to win seven gold medals up to 1960, when he competed in his last Olympics in Rome at the age of 50.

Emil Zátopek, who had served with Czechoslovakia during the war, and was still serving at the rank of Lieutenant when he took the trip to London. He set off in the 10,000m final at a rate of knots and became the first man to run that distance under 30 minutes at the Olympics, winning by nearly a lap of the track.  He was so far ahead that the steward neglected to ring the bell signifying the final lap.  The said steward claimed to be watching the pole vault, and was presumably given a stiff dressing down later.

Controversy at the London 1948 Men's 4x100m RelayLondon Olympic Games 1948 Interesting facts

No event, with the possible exception of the marathon, has had so many protests, and counter-protests as the men's relays.  In 1948, although the United States won the 4 x 400m relay easily, one of the change-over judges ruled that the USA exchange was outside of the passing zone.  Consequently, by rule, the USA team was disqualified.

By the time the USA protested the medals had been handed out to GB, Italy and Hungary.  However after carefully reviewing film of the controversial baton pass, the stewards decided that the baton had been exchanged legal.   Furthermore, they instructed the British team to pass up their gold medals to the USA team. 

Olympic Games Trivia

The first Paralympic Games was held in 1948. The name "Paralympics" comes from the words "Parallel" and "Olympics".

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More Interesting Facts About the London 2008 Olympics

Photo Finish Camera Needed in 100mLondon Olympic Games 1948 - Photo Finish

The men's 100m final needed a photo-finish to confirm that Harrison Dillard had beaten compatriot Barney Ewell.   For the first time in Olympic history Omega used a photo-finish camera to decide the official winner.  The time of 10.3 was slower than Jesse Owens hand-timed mark of 10.2, a time that would not be beaten electronically until 'Bullet' Bob Hays ran 10.06 at the Rome 1964 Olympics.

Surprisingly, there was no automatic timing in use at Wembley, merely photo-finish equipment which was normally used for horse-racing, and was only used to aid the judges to decide the official finish order.

1948 Olympic Marathon

Even though he only finished third, the hero of the marathon was Etienne Gailly.   Although he had never run a marathon before, he was up with the leaders throughout.  He entered Wembley stadium first, shortly ahead of Argentina's Delfo Cabrera and Britain's Thomas Richards.  Gailly had barely a lap of the track to complete, but the crowd could see his legs wobbling and his path wavering to and fro.  Groans rang out around the stadium as he dried up to a walk and was overtaken by Cabrera and Richards. 

They say that history never repeats, but in a shocking reminiscence of Pietro Dorado collapsing within view of the tape in the London marathon 40 years earlier, Gailly fell to his knees on the home straight. But, to a standing ovation, he straightened up and staggered over the finishing line for a bronze.

Olympic Games Trivia

At the 1948 games in London, the English national anthem was played only three times: at the opening and closing ceremonies and when Princess Elizabeth arrived at the stadium for the first time. This was 477 times fewer than the German anthem had been played in the 1936 games held in Berlin.

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Farce in The Equestrian ArenaLondon Olympic Games 1948 - Photo Finish

The dressage events were reduced to farce when it was pointed out that one of the Swedish riders, Gehnäll Persson, was riding in a sergeant's cap.  As only commissioned military officers were permitted to compete, the Swedish team was disqualified and robbed of the gold medals which should have been rightfully theirs. The incident clearly made a nonsense of the socially elitist world of equestrianism, and the laws were changed soon afterwards.

Post War Austerity at London 1948 Olympics

One cannot help but be struck by the contrast between London in 1908, which was at the pinnacle of Edwardian decadence, and London in 1948 where it was agreed that the athletes would bring their own food, and any surplus food would be taken to British hospitals.

Naturally, there was no Olympic Village, the male athletes were housed at an army camp in Uxbridge and the women housed in the dormitories of Southlands College.


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