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A football game being played at Wembley for the 1948 London Olympic Games

1948 London Olympics

Image Credit: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo | Above: A football game being played at Wembley for the 1948 London Olympic Games

The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.

Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founding father of the modern Olympic games 1863-1937

Just three years after allied forces marched into Berlin to effectively herald the end of WWII, London prepared to host the world's greatest sporting event. Officially known as the Games of the XIV Olympiad, the 1948 Olympics were like nothing ever seen before. With rationing still in force and an economy recovering from the demands of war, the wartime attitude of 'make-do and mend' typified the spirit in which these Games were held.

Twelve years had passed since the Olympic flame had resided in Berlin, and by 1948 the world was a very different place. Battle-scarred and still in recovery, Britain put themselves forward to host the Olympics for the second time in its history, having previously hosted the event in 1908. A global event unlike any other, Britain saw an opportunity to demonstrate to the world that the worst effects of the war were now behind them. London saw off competition from four American cities, including Los Angeles and the Swiss city of Lausanne to the host the Olympics.

By no means a lavish spectacle, the Games cost just £730,000 to put together and came to be known as 'The Austerity Games'. No new venues were erected nor was there an Olympic village to house the athletes. Male competitors stayed in military camps in Uxbridge, West Drayton and Richmond, while female competitors were housed in London colleges. Local athletes stayed at home and many commuted to the Games via public transport.

As food and clothing rationing were still in force, competitors were encouraged to buy or make their own uniforms. Athletes were, however, provided with increased food rations, which equated to around 5,500 calories a day instead of the normal 2,600. In true spirit of the Games, many countries pitched in to help increase provisions, with Denmark providing 160,000 eggs and the Dutch sending over a hundred tonnes of fruit.

Under the banner of the famous quote by the founding father of the modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the eleventh modern Olympic Games was declared open on 29 July in Wembley Stadium. A trumpet fanfare and a 21 gun salute roared out as 80,000 spectators gazed on eagerly from their seats.

The wonders of the event were broadcast for the first time on British television, as the BBC paid 1,000 guineas (£1,050) for the broadcasting rights. However, only those fortunate enough to afford a television and live within a 25-mile radius of the only transmission station at Alexandra Palace in North London could actually enjoy the spectacle. Nonetheless, this new medium helped to promote the Games in a way never seen before by the British public, as the spirit of the event captured the nation.

A total of 4,104 athletes were to take part from a record number of 59 nations with over 90% of all competitors being male. Germany and Japan were not invited to participate due to their roles as aggressors in WWII and whilst the Soviet Union was invited, they declined to send any athletes to compete.

The most successful athlete at the Games was Fanny Blankers-Koen of the Netherlands. Otherwise known as the The Flying Housewife, the 30-year-old mother of three, whom many believed was too old to compete, took home four gold medals in the 100m and 200m, 80m high hurdles and the 4x100m relay. Another record breaker was American, Bob Mathias who became the youngest gold medalist to win a track and field event at the tender age of 17. The British pair of Dickie Burnell and Bert Bushnell defied all odds to take gold in the men's double skull, having been thrown together just a month before. This was the last Olympic gold for rowing Britain was to win until Steve Redgrave and his teammates won in the coxless four 36 years later.

As the Games of the XIV Olympiad came to a close, Britain finished with a total of 20 medals, 3 of which were gold and good enough for a final position of 12th. The US walked away in pole position as their medal haul reached 84, including 34 gold medals.

Did you know?

In London, 1948, Alice Coachman became the first African American woman in the history of the modern Olympics to win a gold medal in track and field., Right-handed Karoly Takacs badly injured his right hand in 1938 after a grenade accident in training. He taught himself to shoot with his left hand and won gold in the 25m rapid-fire shooting in 1948 Olympics., The only item of clothing provided free by a sponsor at the 1948 Olympics in London was Y-fronts, with 600 pairs given out in total., The London Olympics in 1948 were nicknamed the Austerity Games. To save money the gold medals were made from oxidised silver, 10,000 athletes competed in the 2012 London Olympics, from a total of 204 nations.