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A History of the Olympic Games in London

Legacy.com / Nick Ehrhardt

A History of the Olympic Games in London

Pedestrians pass a poster advertising the 2012 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 24, 2012, in London. The city will host the 2012 London Olympics with opening ceremonies for the games scheduled for Friday, July 27. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)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.



This undated image made available by Christie's auction house shows 'Alfred Edwin Johnson, Fourth International Olympiad' an illustration by Noel Pocock Johnson & Pocock. London first hosted the Olympics in 1908, a time when the games were in their infancy and struggling for legitimacy. While the modern Olympics were reborn in Athens in 1896, it wasn't until London that they took on the form we know today. London, which hosts the games again this year, began in 1908 to create the rules and traditions, including establishing the standard marathon distance, that have been followed for the past century. (AP Photo/Christie's)

• 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.

Dorando Pietri at the marathon finish, Olympic Games, 1908 London (Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain)• 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.


 In this photo taken Tuesday, March 27, 2012, a copy of a programme collected by London 1948 British Olympian Dorothy Tyler is seen during an interview with The Associated Press at her home in South Croydon, south London. Athletes bought their own uniforms, and some their own food. They stayed in private homes, schools and military barracks. If eggs appeared on the training menu, it was a cause for celebration. When London hosted the Olympics in 1948, organizers did it on the cheap, and they made no apologies about it. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)

• 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.

This file photo taken Aug. 2, 1948, shows Victoria Manalo Draves competing in the compulsory dives of the women's Olympic Games springboard competition in Wembley, London. Draves, the first woman to win two diving gold medals in the same Olympics and the first Asian American medal winner, has died. She was 85. Her husband and coach Lyle Draves said she died from pancreatic cancer complications on April 11, 2010, at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, Calif. (AP Photo/File)

• 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.

Aerial view of London's Olympic Park (Wikimedia Commons/EG Focus)

• 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.

This is a image released on Sept. 30, 20011 by the London 2012 Olympic Delivery Authority shows the parklands area in the south of the Olympic Park looking towards the Olympic Stadium in London. The 2012 Olympics will showcase a much different London and a much different event from the 1948 London Olympics which was hosted amid severe austerity in the aftermath of World War II. This will be a $14.5 billion extravaganza featuring multimillionaire professionals and global stars like Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps, shiny new purpose-built venues and a revitalized east London. Britain's biggest peacetime project also comes with a massive security operation.(AP Photo/Anthony Charlton, ODA)
Photos via Associated Press