Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The 1952 (XVth) Olympic Games in Helsinki, Finland

My friend Pia sent me these two FDCs of the Helsinki Games. They are indeed very timely, in view of the XXXth Games, namely, London 2012, 60 years ago. The 1952 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XV Olympiad, were an international multi-sport event held in Helsinki, Finland in 1952. Helsinki had been earlier given the 1940 Summer Olympics, which were cancelled due to World War II. It is famous for being the Olympic Games at which the most number of world records were broken, before the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
The 1952 Olympic Games were largely a reflection of the Cold War. The Soviet Union, after having been out of the Games since 1912, decided to rejoin the competition. The Soviets, instead of joining the other athletes in the Olympic Village, set up their own Olympic Village for Eastern bloc countries in Otaniemi, near the Soviet naval base at Porkkala. Soviet athletes were chaperoned by Soviet officials everywhere they went in an effort to prevent communication with athletes from the West.
The competition of East versus West dominated the atmosphere. Bob Mathias (United States), winner for the second time of the decathlon, described the atmosphere at the Games: "There were many more pressures on American athletes because of the Russians. . . . They were in a sense the real enemy. You just loved to beat 'em. You just had to beat 'em. . . . This feeling was strong down through the entire team." I wonder if there has been any change in these sentiments over the years! However, the highlights of these games can be summarised as given below :-
  • To the enjoyment of the Finnish crowd, the Olympic Flame was lit by two Finnish heroes, runners Paavo Nurmi and Hannes Kolehmainen.
  • For the first time, a team from the Soviet Union participated in the Olympics. The first gold medal for the USSR was won by Nina Romashkova in the women's discus throwing event. The Soviet women's gymnastics team won the first of its eight consecutive gold medals.
  • Israel made its Olympic debut. The Jewish state had been unable to participate in the 1948 Games because of its War of Independence. A previous Palestine Mandate team had boycotted the 1936 Games in protest of the Nazi regime.
  • The Republic of China (Chinese Taipei/Taiwan), listed as "China (Formosa)", withdrew from the Games on July 20, in protest of the allowing of the People's Republic of China's men and women to compete.
  • Hungary, a country of 9 million inhabitants, won 42 medals at these games, coming in third place behind the much more populous United States and Soviet Union.
  • Hungary's Golden Team won the football tournament, beating Yugoslavia 2–0 in the final.
  • Germany and Japan were invited after being barred in 1948. Following the post-war occupation and partition, three German states had been established. Teams from the Federal Republic of Germany and the Saarland (which joined the FRG after 1955) participated; the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was absent. Though they won 24 medals, the fifth-highest total at the Games, German competitors failed to win a gold medal for the only time.
  • Rules in equestrianism now allowed non-military officers to compete, including women. Lis Hartel of Denmark became the first woman in the sport to win a medal.
  • Emil Zátopek of Czechoslovakia won three gold medals in the 5,000 m, 10,000 m and the Marathon (which he had never run before).
  • The India national field hockey team won its fifth consecutive gold.
  • Bob Mathias of the United States became the first Olympian to successfully defend his decathlon title with a total score of 7,887 points.
  • Josy Barthel of Luxembourg pulled a major surprise by winning the 1500 m.

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