A History of the Olympic Games in London
By: Linnea Crowther
6 years ago
Today, the Olympic torch arrives in London, and the Games of the XXX Olympiad begin.
2012 isn't the first year that has seen Olympic Games in London. The city has hosted the games twice before – in 1908 and 1948 as well – making it the only city to host the Olympics three times.
We look at the London Olympics, then and now.
• The 1908 Olympics were intended to be held in Rome, but were moved to London after the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius drew the Italian government's attention and funds elsewhere. Arrivederci Roma, hello London!
• Though it was no Colosseum, London's White City Stadium seated 68,000 and hosted athletics (aka track and field) as well as swimming, diving and gymnastics.
• In addition to Summer Olympics standards like swimming, diving and cycling, the 1908 Games included figure skating and hockey (in fact, 1908 marked the first Games where winter sports were included), lacrosse, polo, rackets, rugby, tug of war, and water motorsports. Oh, to be an Olympic tug of war gold medalist!
• London 1908 was the only Olympic Games to include jeu de paume, a tennis-like game, as a medal event.
• The 1908 Olympics set the marathon standard. In previous years, the marathon distance had been roughly 25 miles, though it varied slightly based on the course. The 1908 Olympic Committee – in response to various royal requests and concerns – ultimately decided on a 26.2-mile course that began at Windsor Castle and ended in the White City Stadium. In years to come, 26.2 miles became the official length of a marathon.
• John Taylor became the first African American to win a gold medal when he was part of the winning medley relay team. Tragically, Taylor’s glory would be short-lived; he died later that same year.
• Once again, London hosted the Olympics at an unexpected time. London had been on tap to host in 1944 but the Games were cancelled due to World War II. So London was given the 1948 Olympics, the first post-war Olympics – and the first since Nazi Germany and Berlin hosted twelve years earlier.
• Though the war was over, the world was still catching up economically. The 1948 games were known as the "Austerity Games" – no new venues were built (though a track was added to Wembley Stadium) and there was no Olympic village to house athletes.
• A record-setting 59 nations participated, with 14 making their first appearance: British Guiana (now Guyana), Burma (now Myanmar), Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Iran, Iraq, Jamaica, Korea, Lebanon, Pakistan, Puerto Rico, Singapore, Syria, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela.
• A 17-year-old American, Bob Mathias, won the decathlon. He went on to serve as a Congressman from California. More on Mathias later this week.
• Divers Victoria Manalo Draves and Sammy Lee became the first Asian Americans to win Olympic gold medals.
• 1948 venue Wembley Stadium will be used again at this year's games. White City Stadium, the focus of the 1908 games, was demolished in 1985.
• With more than 10,000 athletes from 204 countries, the 2012 games will be the largest multi-sport event ever in the United Kingdom.
• Women's boxing makes its Olympic debut this year.
• The shooting competitions – skeet, air rifle, and others – are included under special dispensation, since they would normally be illegal according to UK gun laws.
• London has worked to make their latest Olympics environmentally friendly, with wildlife habitats in the Olympic Park, renewable energy sources, and compostable food containers.
• Among those who will be deeply missed at this years games: Holger Schmezer, who coached the German dressage team to gold medals in 2004 and 2008 and planned to do it for one more Olympics; and Alexander Dale Oen, a Norwegian swimmer who was considered a likely medal winner before his death in April.
Photos via Associated Press