History of the 1948 Olympic Games in London

Guardsmen marching around at the 1948 Olympics.
(Photo by Haywood Magee/Picture Post/Getty Images)

Since the Olympic Games had not been held in either 1940 or 1944 because of World War II, there was much debate as to whether or not to hold the 1948 Olympic Games at all. Ultimately, the 1948 Olympic Games (also known as the XIV Olympiad) were held, with a few post-war modifications, from July 28 to August 14, 1948. These "Austerity Games" turned out to be very popular and a great success. 

Fast Facts

  • Official Who Opened the Games: British King George VI
  • Person Who Lit the Olympic Flame: British runner John Mark
  • Number of Athletes: 4,104 (390 women, 3,714 men)
  • Number of Countries: 59 countries
  • Number of Events: 136

Post-War Modifications

When it was announced that the Olympic Games would be resumed, many debated whether it was wise to have a festival when many European countries were in ruins and the people near starvation. To limit the United Kingdom's responsibility to feed all the athletes, it was agreed that the participants would bring their own food. Surplus food was donated to British hospitals.

No new facilities were built for these Games, but the Wembley Stadium had survived the war and proved adequate. No Olympic Village was erected; the male athletes were housed at an army camp in Uxbridge and the women housed at Southlands College in dormitories.

Missing Countries

Germany and Japan, the aggressors of World War II, were not invited to participate. The Soviet Union, although invited, also did not attend.

Two New Items

The 1948 Olympics saw the introduction of blocks, which are used to help start runners in sprint races. Also new was the very first, Olympic, indoor pool; Empire Pool.

Amazing Stories

Badmouthed because of her older age (she was 30) and because she was a mother (of two young children), Dutch sprinter Fanny Blankers-Koen was determined to win a gold medal. She had participated in the 1936 Olympics, but the cancellation of the 1940 and 1944 Olympics meant that she had to wait 12 more years to get another shot at winning. Blankers-Koen, often called "the Flying Housewife" or "the Flying Dutchman," showed them all when she took home four gold medals, the first woman to do so.

On the other side of the age-spectrum was 17-year-old Bob Mathias. When his high school coach had suggested he try out for the Olympics in the decathlon, Mathias didn't even know what that event was. Four months after starting training for it, Mathias won gold at the 1948 Olympics, becoming the youngest person to win a men's athletics event. (As of 2015, Mathias still holds that title.)

One Major Snafu

There was one major snafu at the Games. Though the United States had won the 400-meter relay by a full 18 feet, a judge ruled that one of the U.S. team members had passed the baton outside of the passing zone.

Thus, the U.S. team was disqualified. The medals were handed out, the national anthems were played. The United States officially protested the ruling and after careful review of the films and photographs taken of the baton pass, the judges decided that the pass had been completely legal; thus the United States team was the real winner.

The British team had to give up their gold medals and received silver medals (which had been given up by the Italian team). The Italian team then received the bronze medals which had been given up by the Hungarian team.

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Rosenberg, Jennifer. "History of the 1948 Olympic Games in London." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/1948-olympics-in-london-1779602. Rosenberg, Jennifer. (2020, August 26). History of the 1948 Olympic Games in London. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/1948-olympics-in-london-1779602 Rosenberg, Jennifer. "History of the 1948 Olympic Games in London." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/1948-olympics-in-london-1779602 (accessed March 23, 2023).