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You are in: London > 2012 Olympic Games > 2012 Features > Memories of Games passed

Fanny Blankers-Koen (far right) at the 1948 Games

Women hurdlers at the 1948 Games

Memories of Games passed

The capital has hosted the Olympic Games twice before - in 1908 and 1948, dogged by short notice on both occasions... and controversy. Discover more below...

1908 - did you know?

  • The Marathon's distance was changed from 24.85 miles to 26.2 miles, in keeping with the modern era, so the course would cover the ground from the start at Windsor Castle to the White City Stadium finishing line.
  • Swedish shooter Oscar Swahn was the oldest ever competitor to earn an Olympic gold medal, winning the running deer shooting, single shot at the age of 60.
1908 British Olympic Team

The British team at the opening ceremony

London was asked to take over the 1908 Games after Mount Vesuvius erupted in 1906 causing chosen host Rome to abandon its plans.

Although it was given notice of just two years, the capital carried out the organisation of the Olympics with aplomb, introducing qualifying rounds and limiting the number of competitors any one country could field.

2, 035 athletes, representing 22 countries, took part in the Games which ran from April 27 until October 31.

The distance for all future Marathons was set at 26 miles and 385 yards and the 100- metre swimming pool was introduced.

London 1908 also saw powerboat racing and tug-of-war contests in the Games for the first and last time.

However, the London Olympics were marred by international politics and controversial judging.

different rules

Problems started when Finnish athletes were told to march under the Soviet Union flag, and Irish competitors who wanted to represent Ireland were ordered to compete on Great Britain's behalf.

The USA also refused to dip its flag in front of the Royal Box, the common practice of the day, because: "This flag dips to no earthly King."

But the biggest controversy arose during the 400 metre race when American athlete J.C Carpenter, who had come first, was disqualified for obstructing the British competitor, Wyndham Halswelle.

Part of the problem was due to the fact that at the time Britain and the USA both had different rules governing obstruction.

Marathon runner Dorando Pietri helped to the line

Marathon runner Dorando Pietri

The final was re-run but Carpenter and the two other runners, both American, refused to take part, leaving Halswelle to run around the track on his own.

Meanwhile, the winner of the Marathon, Dorando Pietri of Italy, found himself disqualified after he collapsed but was then revived and carried to the finish line by officials.

The second-placed American runner, John Hayes, was later awarded the Gold after the USA lodged a complaint.

All the controversial decisions at the 1908 Games led to the creation of the International Amateur Athletic Federation, which standardised track and field competition rules.

In addition, after the London Olympics the IOC decided to draw judges from an international pool rather than just the host country.

1948 - did you know?

  • The Games were the first to be shown on home television - although very few people in Great Britain actually owned sets.
  • A women's canoeing event was introduced for the first time, as were photo-finishes and starting blocks for sprint races.
Opening ceremony of the 1948 Games

Opening ceremony of the 1948 Games

London had been awarded the 1944 Olympics earlier in June 1939, but when war broke out just months later the Games were cancelled.

Once the Second World War ended, London was again asked by the IOC to host the Olympics, this time in 1948.

4,104 athletes, representing 59 nations, took part in these Games but defeated powers Germany and Japan were not invited.

Neither were there any athletes from the USSR, although many countries, including Burma, Ceylon, Colombia, Guatemala, Lebanon, Panama, Puerto Rico, Syria and Venezuela, were represented for the first time.

The main stadium was a familiar London landmark. Wembley Stadium had survived the Blitz and was now pressed into service after being fitted with a temporary running track.

But London was still rebuilding after the war and so athletes were housed in schools, government buildings and military barracks instead of the usual purpose-built Olympic village.

Food was also being rationed at the time and the IOC was forced to ask all the competitors to do something unheard of today - bring their meals with them, with leftover food being donated to local hospitals.

defending titles

Fanny Blankers-Koen of the Netherlands was the star of the Games, clinching gold medals in the 100 and 200 metres, 80 metre hurdles and 400 metre team relay.

Amazingly, she was deprived of more titles by a rule limiting women to three individual events in track and field athletics, at a time when she was also the world record holder in the high jump and long jump.

Judges at the 1948 London Games

Judges at the 1948 London Games

The 1948 Games saw the Olympics' first photo-finish between Harrison Dillard and Barney Ewell of the United States in the 100 metres final.

Both clocked in at 10.3 seconds but after the judges studied the results, Dillard was awarded the gold medal.

Two athletes who were champions in 1936 managed to defend their titles twelve years later.

They were Ilona Elek of Hungary in womens' foil fencing and Jan Brzak of Czechoslovakia in the canoeing Canadian pairs 1,000 metres.

A gap of ten years also separated medal wins for Karoly Takacs, a member of the Hungarian world champion pistol shooting team.

In 1938 a grenade shattered his right hand - his pistol hand.

Undeterred, Takacs taught himself to shoot with his left hand and, ten years later, he won an Olympic gold medal in the rapid-fire pistol event.

last updated: 19/05/2008 at 16:40
created: 30/01/2007

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