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Micheline Ostermeyer practices the shot put in this August 2, 1948 unlocated file photo. Ostermayer, who won gold medals in the shot put and discus throw in the 1948 Olympics and went on to become a distinguished classical pianist, has died. Officials at the Bois-Guillaume Red Cross hospital, near the northwestern city of Rouen in Normandy, announced her death Wednesday Oct. 17, 2001. She was 78. (AP Photo)
Micheline Ostermeyer practices the shot put in this August 2, 1948 unlocated file photo. Ostermayer, who won gold medals in the shot put and discus throw in the 1948 Olympics and went on to become a distinguished classical pianist, has died. Officials at the Bois-Guillaume Red Cross hospital, near the northwestern city of Rouen in Normandy, announced her death Wednesday Oct. 17, 2001. She was 78. (AP Photo)

Olympic History

Short rations, long friendships at 1948 London Games Add to ...

With a year to go until the opening ceremony, the 2012 Olympics are a constant presence in Britain: Construction work is in full swing, warm-up events are under way and the distribution of tickets is one of the biggest media stories of the year.

The preparations are in stark contrast to the last time London hosted the Games in 1948, amid the economic hardship, rationing and general gloom of post-war Britain.

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London was originally scheduled to host the 1944 Games but they, along with those of 1940 in Tokyo - which were briefly switched to Helsinki - were cancelled because of the Second World War.

With vast swathes of the city still a rubble-strewn bomb site, the entire nation desperately short of food and money and in the wake of one of the worst winters on record, London took on the 1948 burden and, with a predominantly volunteer organizing committee, somehow planned and executed the Games in a little more than 18 months.

"The social and economic condition of post-war Britain was enough to make any planner of an Olympic extravaganza give up in despair," wrote author Janie Hampton in her excellent 2008 book The Austerity Olympics.

"[Yet]the 1948 Games were a true celebration of victory after dark times and one of the most inexpensive and unpretentious Olympic Games of the 20th century."

The 1948 Games cost a total of £732,268, around £20-million ($31-million) at today's rates, and made a post-tax profit of £9,000.

Viewed alongside the £9-billion total outlay for the 2012 Games, some of the figures from the meticulous balance sheet of 1948 make fascinating reading.

A mere £78,120 was spent polishing up Wembley Stadium and the other venues, just £3,638 went on "entertainment and hospitality," while office furniture cost £405.

Competitors were provided with bed linen but were expected to bring their own towels - or buy them upon arrival.

British athletes had to buy or make their own shorts - though every man in the team was provided with one free pair of underpants courtesy of a local outfitter.

Ticket prices ranged from two shillings (around $11 today) for some of the more obscure events and venues to 10 times that for the rowing at Henley.

Although the Games of 1932 in Los Angeles and 1936 in Berlin had provided purpose-built athletes' villages, that was never going to happen in a city where every available builder and piece of material was still being directed towards replacing the hundreds of thousands of buildings destroyed in the Blitz.

Instead, the athletes were dotted around the capital in accommodation varying widely in type and condition.

Richmond Park, on the route for the 2012 cycling road race, still boasted a huge pre-war army camp of wooden huts and that became home to more than 2,000 competitors of various nationalities.

Among the 30-odd venues were hostels, military barracks and schools, where desks were simply replaced with beds.

The British women's swimming team were housed on the eighth floor of an office block - with a broken lift.

However men and women who had lived through the deprivation of the war years, many of whom had seen active service, were not about to complain about the comfort of the bedding.

The multinational nature of the living arrangements helped to build camaraderie and establish cross-border friendships unknown to most in pre-war Britain, many of which lasted a lifetime.

It was not all smiles and make-do, however, and many overseas competitors were shocked to discover that, three years after the end of the war, Britain still operated a strict food-rationing system, with even basics such as bread, eggs and milk in short supply.

The authorities took some persuading to increase the athletes' daily allowance from the basic 2,600 calories to the 3,900 allocated to workers in heavy industry.

A daily packed lunch of a thin sandwich, an apple and a hard-boiled egg was hardly the ideal training fuel for the world's sporting elite, but many were rescued by the generosity of overseas governments and individuals who donated hundreds of tonnes of food.

There were no purpose-built venues, though some old favourites were dusted down and given a lick of paint.

Wembley was the centrepiece but that did not prevent fans of greyhound racing and speedway from complaining when their track was replaced with a cinder surface for the athletics.

Steamroller-smooth initially, after a few days of rain the new track became a sticky, black quagmire.

Weather conditions also affected the open-air velodrome at Herne Hill, to the southeast of the city, where 10,000 fans crammed in to the 18th-century stadium, bomb-damaged after being used as a barrage-balloon battery during the war.

"The sun was so hot it melted the new bitumen surface and we had to follow in the tracks of previous riders," double 1948 bronze medalist Tommy Godwin said.

"But it was a wonderful atmosphere. When I rode the one-kilometre time trial it was just a wall of noise all the way round. The whole thing was an incredibly emotional experience."

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