After a twelve year absence caused by World War II, the Olympic Games returned to London in 1948.The second time the city had hosted the games,they were again staged with less than two years to prepare.With rationing of food and petrol still in force in Britain, these were known as the austerity games and many athletes were housed in former military barracks.
However, they provided the global community with a much needed lift. The London Games attracted a record 59 nations. Fanny Blankers-Koen was the star. She won four gold medals on the track – the 100m, 200m, 80m hurdles and 4x100m relay – and remains the only woman to do so at an Olympics. Another athletics star who made his mark in London was Emil Zatopek. The Czech star won the 10,000m gold medal and was second in the 5000m, and would return to the Games in 1952 and 1956 to establish himself as one of the top distance runners in Olympic history.
Amazingly, two athletes who became Olympic champions in 1936 managed to defend their titles twelve years later. They were Ilona Elek of Hungary in women’s foil fencing and Jan Brzak of Czechoslovakia in the canoeing Canadian pairs 1,000m. At the other end of the scale, 17-year-old American Bob Mathias won the decathlon, allegedly only four months after taking up the sport. When asked how he intended to celebrate his victory, Mathias replied, “I'll start shaving, I guess”.
These were the first games to be staged since the death of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the man who had revived the games. They were also the last to feature an Arts competition which was staged at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Britain entered 375 athletes, but claimed just three gold medals. The successes came in rowing, from John Wilson and Ran Laurie in the men’s coxless pairs and Richard Burnell and Bertie Bushnell in the men’s double sculls and in sailing, where David Bond and Stewart Morris won the Swallow category. In terms of the British contribution to the Games, 1948 is remembered more for the work of the organising committee, who staged successful games at such short notice to put the Olympic movement back on track.