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The Olympics: London's History as a Three-Time Host

By Tash Lee

London 2012 isn't the first time the English capital has played host to the Olympic Games. Since the beginning of the modern Olympics in 1896 in Athens, Greece, the Games have taken place in London twice – the first being in 1908 when the country was enjoying a time of peaceful prosperity, and the second in 1948, when the United Kingdom was still resolutely picking up the pieces of its blitz-torn capital after the brutal effects of the Second World War.

Olympics 1908: Britain excels

One of the main difficulties facing the 2012 Olympic organisers was the sheer number of people expected to flock to London. With a third of British children now expected to live until they're 100, the current population of London stands at an astounding 7.8 million. In 1908 however, the average life-expectancy was 55; and with a population of 10,800 there was arguably a slightly less daunting population to deal with.

After the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 1906, the games were relocated from Rome to London whilst the Italian Government used the funds for essential restoration projects instead. 1908 was a momentous year for the Olympics, making its mark with a host of firsts:

  • The first Opening Ceremony

  • The first appearance of diving as an Olympic Event

  • The first games to hold the marathon we know today (26 miles, 365 yards).

From 27 April to 31 October, 22 nations with 2,000 athletes took part in 110 events. The British team were hugely successful, topping the medal count, and finishing with three times the number of medals as the United States, who came in second!

Olympics 1948: A year to forget

After winning the Olympic bid in 1939, London prepared itself to host the games in 1944. However, in the five years that passed, World War II had ripped countries apart and caused unprecedented suffering across the globe. By 1945 when a ceasefire was finally successful, more than 60 million people had been killed, equating to 2.5 percent of the world's population. As can only be imagined, the 1944 Olympics was cancelled; no-one was in the mood for games.

The 1948 London Olympics were greeted with great jubilation and relief, largely stemming from the £30,000 profit that was made — a significant sum to put towards more bomb-restoration across the country. Between 29 July and 14 August, 59 nations competed in 136 events.

With a limited budget, there was no new Olympic stadium, velodrome, aquatics centre or handball arena; and the main event of the closing ceremony was the release of thousands of pigeons above North London. The athletes were housed in RAF camps, rationed on cheap whale meat, and the only drug test that took place was to see if sportsmen had overdosed on Horlicks tablets.

Olympics 2012: Third time lucky?

London 2012 — and England — is ready to proudly host the Olympic Games for the third time. Starting on July 27, the 2012 London Olympics is set to be as big as its predecessors, with 216 countries taking part, and billions of pounds already spent.

London holds its breath to see if history will repeat itself. With the average standing ticket price being at least £200 — compared to the 17 pence it was 64 years ago — the Olympics are set to be the most elaborate and expensive yet. Welcome to London 2012!

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