The founder of the modern Olympic Games, Pierre de Coubertin, was inspired in the 1880s by Thomas Arnold at Rugby School and the Much Wenlock Games in Shropshire, founded by Dr William Penny Brookes. What he saw helped inform his vision for the both the spirit and running of the Olympic Games.
A seasoned Host City
London has hosted the Games twice before: in 1908 and 1948. Each time we left our mark on the Olympic Movement with our innovative approach.
The 1908 Olympic Games were originally awarded to Rome, but the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 1906 meant another Host City was needed. London stepped in and, despite the time constraints, the city’s offer to host the Games was accepted by the International Olympic Committee.
The London 1908 Games were officially opened on 27 April 1908 by HRH King Edward VII and stretched out over a three-month period. A total of 22 nations sent 2,008 athletes – 1,971 men and 37 women – who competed across 110 events.
The majority of the sports at London 1908 remain central to the Games today and will feature at London 2012. However, there were also those – including motor boating and tug of war – which have long since ceased to feature on the Olympic programme.
The Olympic Stadium, White City, was built especially for the Olympic Games. Taking less than a year to build, it was widely regarded as a technological marvel. It held 68,000 people and contained a running track that was enclosed by a cycle track.
When the Games closed on 31 October 1908, Great Britain topped the medal table with a total of 145 medals. The United States were second with 47, while third-placed Sweden claimed 25.
Despite the short notice, the Games were widely declared a success and lay the foundations for London’s Olympic legacy as a Host City.
New in 1908
- Athletes paraded under their national flags at a Ceremony at the start of the Games
- Every competitor had to be registered with their Olympic Association and entered as a member of a national team
- Qualifying standards were laid down and a set of rules for each of the sports was agreed by the majority of the competing nation
- The distance of the Marathon was fixed at 26.2 miles, which was the distance from Windsor Castle to the Royal Box in the Olympic Stadium
London again stepped in at the last minute to host the first Games after World War II. Despite a shortage of time and resources, the city rose to the challenge to host another fine, morale-boosting Games.
The Opening Ceremony took place at Wembley Stadium on 29 July 1948, with HRH King George VI officially opening the Games. The Olympic Flame was lit by athlete John Mark, and the Olympic Oath taken on behalf of all competitors by Donald Finlay.
136 events were contested by 4,104 athletes from 59 nations. At the end of the Games, the USA topped the medal table, taking away a total of 84 medals. They were followed by Sweden with 44, and France with 29.
New in 1948
London 1948 Games
- Starting blocks were deployed for sprint races
- A volunteer programme was created to help run the Games
- The Empire Pool was the first covered Olympic pool in history, although its length exceeded the regulatory 50 metres so had to be shortened with a wooden platform
- The competition was also shown on home television for the first time, although few people actually owned television sets at the time