Vesuvio, the volcano that had destroyed Pompey in Roman times,
revisited Italy in the beginning of our century. After many years of smart
campaigning and versatile politicking that brought the Games to their country,
Italians were forced to denounce this favor because the financial burden created
by the volcanic eruption, along with the huge expenditure the Olympics demanded,
were too much for the State funds to support. The first and the most eager to
invite the Games to their country were the British, a movement that was supported
by Lord Desborough along with the support of the Royal Family.
The British managed to achieve something that even by today's highly advanced technology does not seem likely to have been achieved. London formally accepted the hosting on November 19. The Shepherd's Bush Olympic Stadium was ready to receive the world by early July. In less than ten months the British managed to erect a magnificent stadium that could accommodate nearly 70,000 spectators!
Surely, the most dramatic event of the London Olympiad, is the marathon race with Italian Dorado Pietri as its protagonist. Seventy-six runners responded to the shot in the starting line. Despite the humid and warm weather, 350,000 people were standing in the streets to watch the runners. From the 15th kilometer, a thin, short runner from Italy, Pietri, accelerated and gradually paced ahead, at least 2 kilometers. After an hour's time he was 5 kilometers ahead. Frenzied spectators were applauding as Pietri was entering the London city limits. Pietri ran to the stadium and neared its entrance in a semi-collapse, while he fell five times. The rest of runners were 5 to 6 minutes behind him. To complete the official distance he had to run one full track lap, 600m - the most dramatic 600 meters of his life. Fifty meters after entering, he fell again. He stood up after sixty seconds of heavy trembling and hard breathing. He crawled for 20m. He fell. He stood and crawled again for another 70m. And he collapsed once more. Then, some over-zealous game-judges (among them Sherlock Holmes' author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) approached and helped him over the finish line. Pietri was, of course, disqualified and the victory went to second runner American Johnny Hayes. But the public, the eternal unpredictable public, was for Pietri. Queen Alexandra gave him a personal gift - a golden cup from her private collection. A fund that was raised privately by Londoners gave Pietri 211 p.
Despite de Coubertin's strong objections regarding women's participation, London's Olympics received 36 women-athletes from 22 countries...
Text by Dimitri N. Marcopoulos
1908 London Olympics: Various WebPages
After Berlin the Games were scheduled to visit Tokyo. With
the outburst of the Sino-Japanese war, in 1938, the Olympiad was transferred
to Helsinki, again to be annulled because of the Soviet invasion to Finland.
We come to 1948, two Olympiads omitted because of the World War II, and the
place is London. In the mean time Baron de Coubertin had died, his heart was
sent to a crypt in Ancient Olympia, as it was in his will. After six years of
devastating war, London receives the Games with good will and skepticism as
well. In 1948 Londoners were still in ration coupons for food and clothing.
There was a tremendous housing problem because of the immense bombing and Olympic
athletes were hosted in schools and Royal Army barracks.
It was no surprise that Germany and Japan were not invited to attend. On the other hand countries who had accepted the communist rule attended for the first time.
Star of the London Games became a girl from Holland, the blond and elegant Fanny Blankers Kohen who won four gold medals. Fanny was 30 and, according to experts too old for such achievements. But, besides the four golds, Fanny also won over the theory that sports can be the goal of a mother and housewife. In an interview, when asked on how she trains, she said that she doesn't very much, with all the house chores she has every day. "I have to cook for the children and my man and then there is clothes to be mended and floors to be scraped and millions of other things. No time for good training". The four golds blond gild had the world wondering. Bob Mathias, the seventeen years old American boy, became the youngest athlete ever to win the decathlon. His victory was of such a rarity, that led Hollywood to buy the rights and produce a good and commercially successful picture.
London marks also the eve of the rising of another athletic star, the great Emil Zatopek who was admired, not so much about his victory in the 10,000m race, but with his ability, in the last 300m to pass from fifth place to first.
Well, apart from all these, London's Olympics have not much to show. The world was still licking the deep wounds left on by the World War II...
Text by Dimitri N. Marcopoulos
1948 London Olympics: Various WebPages
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