Andrei Olenin, RIA Novosti
Sixty years ago, the 14th Summer Olympic Games – the first since the end of World War II – kicked off in London after a 12-year break.
Originally, International Olympic Committee (IOC) functionaries hoped to resume the Games in 1944, and tapped London as the host country, but the war was still on, and the idea remained an unfulfilled wish. After the Nazis were defeated, IOC acting president, Johannes Sigfrid Edstrom, a Swede who had replaced the late Henri de Baillet-Latour, called the first post-war IOC executive meeting in the British capital in August 1945. It was decided to hold the next Olympic Games in 1948 on the banks of the Thames.
Resumption of the Olympics received a mixed reception in Europe, including in Britain. Indeed, Europe still lay devastated and many wondered if it was right to stage an international sporting event at a time when countries lay in ruins. People were starving (in Britain there were long queues for bread and other basic food), were suffering from the loss of relatives and were generally lacking the necessities of life. In London itself, some of the population protested against the government’s decision to host the summer Olympics in 1948. On the other hand, some hoped the Games would provide a bright spot in a drab post-war existence. They believed the sports pageant would show the world that nobody could break the spirit of the nations and that life would carry on as normal.
Of course, a city laid to waste by heavy air bombardments and artillery fire could not, by definition, stage such a large-scale sporting event. The lack of time since the end of the war did not allow the hosts to build new sports facilities. Fortunately, the legendary football stadium at Wembley, which seated 80,000 spectators, was left practically untouched by the bombings and was converted for track and field competition. Other stadiums and arenas required only minor repairs. Also, there was no traditional Olympic village to accommodate participants. Male athletes were billeted at the Royal Navy barracks in Uxbridge, West London, and female participants in various school and college dormitories. One of the athletes recalled that the lack of “everyday inconveniences had no effect on the atmosphere. It was sincere and joyous.”
On July 29, 1948, the summer Olympic Games opened to a fanfare ceremony at Wembley Stadium. King George VI of Britain, the father of the current Queen Elizabeth II, greeted the participants, giving the go-ahead to the main sports competition. The events themselves, numbering 17 and involving over 4,000 athletes from 59 countries, got off to a flying start the next day, July 30. Germany and Japan, as the countries that had unleashed World War II, were not invited to attend. Athletes from the Soviet Union did not take part in the Games until four years later – at the Helsinki Olympics.
The 1948 London performances were not impressive, affected as they were by the aftermath of the war, but the Games had their heroes. One was Fanny Blankers-Koen, of the Netherlands, who won four athletic races and was justly dubbed “The Flying Dutchwoman.” But the greatest achievement of the first post-war Olympics was to reassert the humane ideals of the Olympic movement.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.