1948 London Olympics: The austere post-WWII Games (Looking Back)

Mexico City, July 18 (IANS) The 1948 Olympics were the first summer Games to be held since 1936, and were marked by a certain austerity as host city London struggled to recover from the ravages of World War II.

Some 4,104 athletes, including 390 women, from 59 countries and regions took part in the 14th edition of the games, competing in 17 sports and 136 specialties between July 29 and August 14. reports Xinhua.

Though Britain could not afford to build grand stadia or other such venues, London made the most of its existing infrastructure, turning barracks that had housed soldiers into dorms for the athletes.

The city’s 100,000-seat Wembley (football) stadium was adapted with a track made of ash for track and field events.

Austerity not withstanding, the opening ceremony was the first to be broadcast on television, and was watched by about half a million people.

But while the games featured a record number of participating countries and regions, the level of sport was not what it could have been, for a number of reasons: several accomplished athletes had died in the war; among those competing, some were past their peak; and the facilities weren’t quite up to par for optimum training or performance.

The star of the games was Dutch athlete Fanny Blankers-Koen, who won gold medals in the 100- and 200 metre dash, 80m hurdles and the 4x400m relay.

Blankers-Koen may have been able to scoop up more gold medals, but in those days women were only allowed to compete in a maximum of three individual competitions.

France’s Micheline Oestermeyer also gained attention for winning the gold in the discus and javelin throw.

Women’s canoeing made its debut at these games.

Among the men, the Czech Emil Zatopek won gold in the 10,000m run and the silver in the 5,000m race.

America’s Robert Bruce Mathias became the youngest athlete ever to win the Olympic decathlon, at the age of 17.

Hungary’s Karoly Takacs, a champion pistol shooter who had badly injured his right hand in a grenade explosion during army training in 1938, then spent years training to shoot with his left. It paid off, winning him the gold medal in the rapid-fire pistol event.

The 1948 Olympics also marked a high point for South American sports, with Argentina’s Delfo Cabrera winning the marathon after overtaking Britain’s Thomas Richards just meters from the finish line.

As for India, the ccountry picked up its fourth hockey gold, the first after Independence.

–IANS

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