Following the 1936 Berlin games, which were…awkward, to put things mildly, the Olympics were put on hold. A world war does tend to get in the way of international sportsmanship, although games were technically scheduled in 1940 (in Helsinki and Tokyo, which would also have been a bit uncomfortable) and in 1944 in London. Obviously none of those games came to pass, so London was put forward again as a potential host of the Olympics when they returned after the war. Because the country was so trashed after WWII, there were some who wanted to hand the ’48 games over to the U.S., but King George insisted they remain in London, seeing the games as a chance to help restore the country. This was the second time London hosted the Olympic Games (the first was in 1908), and with the 2012 Games, London has become the first city to host the Olympics three times.
Since England at the time was still under wartime rationing, they couldn’t exactly splash out for the games, which came to be known as the Austerity Games. No new venues or Olympic Village were built; events were staged in existing spaces, and athletes were housed at RAF camps and London colleges. Still, a record 59 nations were represented by more than 4000 athletes. Germany and Japan were not invited to participate, and the USSR chose to sit this one out. The United States won the most medals—84, as well as the most gold medals—38. Great Britain won 23 medals, three of which were golds.
The games officially opened on July 29, a beautiful, sunny day. At 4 p.m., King George (who attended the ceremony with Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary) started the games. The opening ceremony and 60 hours of coverage of the games were broadcast live on BBC television; the Beebs paid £1000 for the privilege. The games became known for being the first to have a political defection (Marie Pravaznikova, the Czechoslovakian President of the International Gymnastics Federation, refused to return home to a country that had become part of the Soviet Bloc), the first medal won by Sri Lanka (Duncan White, who finished second in the 400 metre hurdles), the first gold medal won for Jamaica (by Arthur Wint in the men’s 400 metres), and for the gold-medal finish of 17-year-old Bob Mathias of the United States, who became the youngest ever Olympic gold medalist in athletics.