• London Olympics 1908 and 1948 by Janie Hampton

    This author wrote the excellent 'How the Girl Guides Won the War', and when I heard her on the radio speaking about her latest book, I asked A-Y to procure it for the pleasure of the ABC. At 48 pages, it's more of a pamphlet than a book, but it is packed with information, history, pictures and anecdotes.

    Although the book doesn't compare 1908 and 1948 with the forthcoming events in London 2012, it's inevitable that any reader will do so.

    Both the 1908 and 1948 events were conceived, planned and delivered in two years. 1908 was moved from Italy after Vesuvius had erupted in 1906, and 1948 after the IOC decided that Britain was the only country that could possibly organise it after the traumatic events of 1939-45.

    Venues for the 1908 event were built or refurbished in ten months at a cost in today's money of 5 million. Tickets for the opening ceremony cost a guinea (1.05p). Lord Coe please note!

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    The difference between 1908's amateur age and current times is emphasised for this reader by the three swimming gold medals won by a miner's son who learned and practised his swimming in the local canal. And how fabrics have changed - the ladies' diving team wore woollen costumes! Some events are also no longer contested - standing long jump, standing high jump and motor boat racing!

    In an echo of current times, the 1948 event when announced was not propular with the public, press or government in a bankrupt nation suffering serious unemployment, rationing, and lack of housing. In those austere times, competitors were asked to bring their own towels and soap, but their bedlinen was provided (I did wonder whether it might have had stripes down the middle). The author has done a lot of research and lists the countries which sent food for the athletes to share, and what they sent (France sent several railway waggons of food and one of wine). In the absence of telephones, schoolboys who owned bicycles were asked to volunteer as messengers.

    Seventy nations took part, but the Germans and Japanese were excluded (although there's an interesting tale of Helmut Bantz, a German POW and the British Gymnastic Team). The description of the opening ceremony is very moving, and captures the sense of relief felt by everyone after recent history.

    Advertising was becoming more sophisticated, and I particularly liked the idea of the free pair of white Y-fronts given to each male competitor in the British Team. As soon as other teams saw them they went and bought their own!

    Costs were estimated at 743,000 and were actually 732,268 (around twenty million pounds at today's prices). When all was totted up, the 1948 games made a profit of 29,000. Not much, but one can't help looking at the Government money being wasted in building and dismantling facilities for 2012.

    The author includes a brief and interesting chapter on 'what happened next' to the various people and venues. As well as the people (Emil Zatopek, Fanny Blankers-Koen, Helmut Bantz), I was intrigued to learn that when I attended concerts at the Empire Pool Wembley in the 1970s and 80s, I was standing on a floor suspended over the 1948 Olympic Pool, which wasn't removed until Wembley Arena was created on the site. I was also interested to learn that 1948 was the first year that games for disabled people were held, at Stoke Mandeville, mostly for wounded service personnel. In 1952 that event became International, and now we see the Paralympics running at the same venues as the Olympics. Not all change has been for the worse!

    This is an interesting book, which I'd recommend to all readers - it doesn't take long to read, but will provide excellent conversation points on a range of topics.

    And when we see the next Zola Budd, Mary Decker, Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding, and wonder whatever happened to the Olympic spirit, I shall remember Jim Halliday. Jim had been a POW on the Burma-Siam Railway and weighed five stone when freed in 1945. He got a job at Kearsley Power Station and shovelled coal to get fit. In 1948 he captained the British Olympic Weightlifting Team and won a bronze medal. It truly isn't the winning, but the taking part, that matters.

    Four wine glasses


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