Opening Ceremony of 1948 Olympics
With WWII over, the Olympic Committee saw fit to select London to host the first post-war Olympics in the summer of 1948. In stark contrast to the theatrical and obscenely expensive bidding process and drawn out decision-making that goes on today, the vote was a postal ballot.
Since Berlin 1936 two Olympics had been cancelled because of the war: Tokyo had been selected to host the 1940 Games, then when war erupted Helsinki replaced them, but no games were possible. The situation had not improved in 1944 when London had been the putative base.
The 1948 Games were to become known as the Austerity Olympics, with food rationing, housing shortages, and damaged infrastructure all having an impact on the events and participants. Some 59 countries took part, 14 of them for the very first time. Germany and Japan, so recently oppressors of many of the participating nations, were both excluded.
It is a sign of the times that 3,714 men competed, as opposed to 390 women, but the star of the Games was a female athlete, perhaps the greatest in history, Fanny Blankers-Koen, who won gold in the 100m, 200m, and the 80 hurdles. Limited to three events by the regulations, she was perhaps denied further golds in the long jump and high jump, as she was then world record holder in both.
The opening ceremony before a crowd of 85,000 at Wembley was rather less glitzy than we are used to today. Military bands played, there was a 21-gun salute, and the athletes paraded. The torch was brought into the stadium to light the Olympic flame, a British hurdles competitor, Wing Commander Donald Finlay, took the oath on behalf of the athletes, Lord Burghley who had organised the event made a speech, followed by others. The athletes paraded out, Greece first, Britain last, and the ceremony was over. No ballet by thousands of manically grinning children; no mass tableaux with coloured cards to depict peace and the spirit of competition; just 2,500 pigeons released at 4pm as King George VI declared the Games open, a rather more dignified, restrained and possibly fitting production than we expect today.
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