20 June 2012

The last time Britain staged the Olympics - in 1948 - the country was still recovering from the war, there was rationing of food and petrol and restrictions on building.

They were the 'austerity games'.  The government was unable to give any money, so existing facilities were adapted.  Those games were the most glorious piece of improvisation that sport has ever seen - and we as a nation are wonderful at improvisation.
The war taught the lesson that anything could be adapted for ultimate triumph.  In 1946, the International Olympics Committee asked Britain to stage the event. After coping with the blitz, the Olympics was really not too difficult a hurdle for the British to surmount.

Teams were housed not in an Olympic village but largely in barracks and schools, some with field kitchens.  
Competitors were even allowed a ration of 8oz of chocolate a week.  The tone of restraint is show by the official report, which confessed almost shamefacedly that 'typewriters were hired and, in some cases, purchased, but these found a ready market after the games and were therefore not a liability'.
Food was sent from overseas, including 100 tons of fruit and vegetables from Holland; 160,000 eggs from Denmark and 20,000 bottles of mineral water from Czechoslovakia, and the colonies provided parcels of food just as they had during the war.

Some coaches who helped were given extra petrol coupons and food parcels from abroad to help prepare for the games.  The British athletics team even had a training camp, at Butlin's in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, where some competitors learnt to use the 'new-fangled' starting blocks which were used at the games for the first time.
The games were a resounding success, even making a £30,000 profit.  It was the first thing since the war that the British had had to look forward to (apart from the wedding of Princess Elizabeth (later the Queen) and Philip Mountbatten, previous year).
When the Olympic torch carried by runners from Greece arrived at Dover, thousands crammed the quays.  At Charing, Kent, 3,000 people mobbed the torch bearer, even though it was 1.30 in the morning.  
The games opened in splendid sunshine, with a record 59 countries taking part, before a capacity crowd at Wembley.  The event was reported by 2,000 journalists, including 134 foreign radio reporters. The BBC used a staff of 1,750 to screen more than 64 hours of the games, although there were only 80,000 TV sets in Britain, largely in the south east.
Goodwill overcame many problems, for instance, the British flag was left locked in a car before the opening ceremony and the window had to be broken to retrieve it.  The gymnastics were scheduled to be held in the open air at Wembley, but the British weather reverted to type and rain led to the event being switched to Earls Court.  A shortage of venues meant that the boxing was held on a bridge across the swimming pool at Wembley Stadium.

The organising staff of 219, supported by the army, civil servants, thousands of volunteers and endless enterprise, ensured the games flourished.
The visitors did not scorn the facilities; they were the best available at the time. There were even programmes at 6d each.  

Rewards through sponsorship and prize money for athletics events were virtually unknown; the first prize for a race was not allowed to be worth more than £7.00.

In 1948 people did not celebrate their victories; people were expected to stand still, catch their breath and shake their rival's hand.

The games marked a turning point in sport, with harder training regimes; the era of the carefree Olympics was ending. 
Also see: http://www.olympic.org/london-1948-summer-olympics and http://www.red-grey.co.uk/general/olympic-games-1948.html

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