Friday 6 April 2012

1952 Summer Olympics Helsinki: XV Olympiad

A resurrection of the 1940 poster
featuring Paavo Nurmi
Having been under consideration in 1936 (no votes) and  actively seeking nomination in 1940 (second) Helsinki finally got to stage their games. They had been awarded the 1940 Games after Tokyo had been forced to abandon its hopes of hosting the games in 1938.

Progress on many of the Olympic venues had been well under way in 1939 when Europe once again found itself at war and Finland too found itself fighting for its independence. Indeed the Organising Committee were in air raid shelters whilst enemy bombing of Helsinki was going on while they decided on the winner of the competition to compose an Olympic Fanfare, it was to be heard only in 1952.

In the first round of balloting Helsinki had 14 votes the other 15 were split between Amsterdam (3) and the US cities of Minneapolis (4), Los Angeles (4), Detriot (2), Chicago (1) and Philadelphia (0). With the bottom three eliminated on the second round each of the top three received one additional vote enough to push Helsinki over 50%.

Nations 69 (+10)
Competitors 4955 (+841)
Sports 17 (nc)
Events 136 (+7)

19 July to 3 August, 1952 hosted by Helsinki, Finland

At 60°10′15″N Helsinki is the most northerly city ever to have hosted the Summer Olympics, beating nordic neighbour Stockholm's 59°19′46″N from 1912.

The poster for the games showed an illustration of Finland's own great distance runner Paavo Nurmi, who feats were to emulated by another great distance runner at these games (see below). The design was originally intended for the 1940 Games that Helsinki were preparing for at short notice. Along with 1912 triple distance running Gold medalist Hannes Kolemainen he did bear the Olympic Torch on its final leg to light the flame.

First Soviet gold medalist and indeed 1,2,3
wrapped in their blankets between throws
Israel were a new Olympic nation at the 1952 games they had been the 6th nation, as Palestine, to accept the invitation to the 1940 Helsinki Games but because of the war of independence in 1948 had not been able to make their debut then.

Also making a very much delayed first appearance was the USSR, the first gold for what became one of the Olympic Superpowers went to Nina Romanskova in the discus, in what was also the first instance of the Hammer and Sickle flag flying from all three poles in an Olympic ceremony as Yelisaveta Bagriantseva and Nina Dumbadze (who had lost her World record [53.37m] to Romanskova [53.61m] a month before and would reclaim it in October [57.04m]) took silver and bronze respectively. In the end the Soviet Union ended up 2nd in the medal table taking 22 Gold, 30 silver and 19 Bronze medals. They were most dominant in the Gymnastics something that is still true today taking nine of the possible 15 medals on offer and 22 out of the 47 medals of offer. Taking out the three team medals where they could only win one in each event that is half of all the medals awarded

1956 medalists in the womens K-1 500m in the German
colours on the left is arguably the only medalist for an
independent Saar
There were invites send out to the three German states at the time. Yes I did say three. The Federal Republic of Germany (West) accepted the invite sending 173 men and 32 women to take part in 123 events winning 7 silver and 17 bronze medals, the German Democratic Republic (East) did not send a team. The other German nation was Saarland or the Saar Protectorate that existed on the German/French border. The team from Saar produced  no medalists and returned to the Federal Republic on 1 Jan 1957, although their athletes competed for West Germany in the 1956 games, making this their only appearance at the Olympics. However, of all the years that German athletes took part in the Games this was the only time they failed to win a Gold.

However, if we are to look at Saar based on time as a separate state one of their 1952 athletes did pick up a medal for them in 1956. Her name was Therese Zenz and in the sea off Helsinki in her kayak only came 9th in K-1 500m. But in 1956 she would win silver in the same event (effectively Saar's only Olympic medal while not under the control of Germany), she repeated the achievement in 1960 (pictured on left) adding a second silver in the K-2 500m.

The People's Republic of China also competed for the first time. This lead to The Republic of China (Formosa/Taiwain) withdrawing their athletes from competition.

Other less controversial first time nations were The Bahamas, Gold Coast (now Ghana), Guatemala, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Netherlands Antilles, Nigeria, Thailand and Vietnam.

Sport innovations

There were no new Olympic events although the women gymnasts rather than taking part in just a team event had the events we know today, floor, vault, beam and uneven bars as individual events along with their overall team event. The Modern Pentathlon also saw the introduction of the team event based on the scores of the individual event. Elsewhere there were minor changes to classes and division of competition but there was nothing majorly different event wise from London 4 years previously.

However, there were innovations as to how the results could be relayed to spectators. In the athletics stadium and electric scoreboard was used to convey the results of the running events. At the jumping and throwing events numbers were flipped over to convey how the competitors were doing. At other venues where space was limited a codification of nations names to 2-5 letters was used to indicate results on score boards, this did away with the need to show things in 4 languages. This was the start of the standard three letter codes we now all now recognise for international sport of all types, not just at the Olympics.

Women and non-military on Horseback

For the first game the Equestrian events were opened up to non-military officers. This also as a result led to women being able to compete. It also remains the only sport that men and women compete for the same medals in all events on an equal basis regardless of gender. Most of the other Olympic sports have male and female events.

This led to the Danish dressage rider Lis Hartel making history as the first woman to win an Olympic medal on horseback in the individual event. Considering that the London Olympics emerge in the year of Her Majesty's Diamond Jubilee the fact that in the year of the accession of such a horse loving monarch the first woman to win an equestrian medal did so on a horse called Jubilee. Even more astounding is that Mrs Hartel as a result of polio was paralysed below the knees and required assistance to mount and dismount. The duo where to repeat their silver performance in four years time when the Melbourne equestrian events were held in neighbouring Sweden at Stockholm (but more on the reasons why next week).

Lebanese medals

Zakaria Chibab first
Silver medal for Lebanon
Lebanon gained their first Olympic medals in the 1952 Games. Indeed totally 1952 has provided half of all the medals that the Levant state has achieved and they were both gained in the same event. It even warrants a mention in the official report of the Games.

A pleasant surprise was the emergence among the medalists of two Lebanese wrestlers P. 347

Those medals game in the Greco-Roman Wrestling silver in the bantamweight class (52-57kg) to Zakaria Chibab and bronze in the Welterweight class (67-73kg) to Khalil Taha. Very little is known about these wrestlers apart from their appearance at these games and the fact that they produced the first medals for their nation and that results in those bouts.

Luxembourg Gold and Czech family fortunes

The 1500m field contained the World Record holder at the distance Werner Leug (Ger) in a race in which he just pipped his compatriot Günter Dohrow (who failed to make the final here). There was also Roger Bannister (GB) who within 2 years would be the first man to run a sub 4 minute mile but who many thought was the favourite, plus the Swedish milers Olle Åberg and Ingvar Ericsson.

The Olympic record going into the final as the 1936 winning time of 3:47.8 and this race was fast, so fast indeed that that the first eight finishers all ran faster than the existing Olympic record. However, the fast finishing Luxembourger Josy Barthel shocked all the big names to take the tape and the gold medal. This is the only gold that the tiny European Grand Duchy has won in Athletics at any Games so far.

To win any distance over 1500m in Helsinki you had to be Czech and indeed you had to be called Emil Zátopek. On the 20 July the man from Kopřivnice, who shares my birthday, lined up to run 25 laps of the track in the 10,000m. After the fifth lap he took to the lead setting the pace and was never headed. He ended up running reverse splits running the second 5000m faster than the first. (14:43.4 to 14:33.6) Alain Mimoun of France came second some 15 seconds behind the new Olympic Record. However, Britain's Frank Sando had lost a shoe on the first lap and completed the race to finish 5th. Sixteen of the 33 runners if they had run the same time in London four years earlier would have beaten the silver medalist.

Chataway hits the ground as Zátopek heads
for second of his three golds
On 22 July he took part in the heats of the 5000m securing his place in the final. The final was another two days later. German Herbert Schade led most of the way but in his wake were five other runners Zátopek and Mimoun, Chris Chataway and Gordon Pirie from Great Britain and Gaston Reiff the defending champion from Belgium. They stayed together until about 600m from the end. At that point Reiff left the track and Pirie was dropped by the other four.

At the bell Zátopek took the lead, but the other three all came back past him on the back straight first Schade, then Mimoun and Chataway. With 250m to go Chataway kicked to the front, but halfway round the final bend Zátopek surged to the front again him followed by Mimoun and Schade. Chataway stepped on the inside curb and fell. He recovered but just lost on the line to Pirie for 4th place. Zátopek it was for gold in yet another Olympic Record with Mimoun again having to settle for silver.

Three days later Zátopek took part in his first ever Marathon. James Peters of Great Britain went off fast from the gun opening a lead even while the runners were still in the stadium and soon had over 100m lead over the next athlete. That was a lead he held until about 13km, when he was joined by Zátopek and Gustaf Jannson (Swe). By half distance Peters fast start was staring to pay as he was 10seconds behind the other two, by 30km he was a minute back, at 32km he was too exhausted to carry on. However, by this stage the double Olympic Champion had already started to put a gap between himself and the Swede at 30km he led by 26secs, by 35km by 1min 5 secs and over 2 minutes by 40km. In the approach to the stadium Argentine runner Reinaldo Gorno overtook Jannson for silver, but Zátopek was already the three time Olympic champion in the longest three athletic disciplines.

More Czech gold but keeping it in the family
Czechoslovakia did manage another gold in the athletics in the 1952 Games. It came in the women's javelin an hour after Zátopek had won his second gold in the 5000m. Throwing an Olympic Record 50.47 her name was Dana Zátopková, her husband was Emil Zátopek who had left London with one gold medal and two gold rings so he could marry his fiancée who had come 7th then. She's been invited to London the scene of the first of her four games and her late husbands first gold, but she doesn't want to miss a thing by nipping between venues so is staying at home with her TV remote.

First the Olympics  then youngest ever undisputed World Champ

Patterson in action ducking a punch in his first round bout
The Middleweight division final of the boxing didn't take long. Indeed most of the champion's opponents didn't go the distance. As the official report says:

The most phenomenal boxer, however, and the most victor was a youth of seventeen, the coloured American middleweight Floyd Patterson. Only his first opponent, Omar Tebbaka of France, lasted all three rounds. All the others fell to this agile youth and his amazing reach before the final gong. The final Paterson - Tita (Rumania) was the shortest in modern Olympic history, ending in 42 seconds in a knockout. The Official Report, page 399

Those ringside knew they were witnessing embryonic greatness. By the end of the year of the next Olympics had come around he had become the Youngest World Heavyweight Champion in history (until Mike Tyson later took that record) but also the first Olympic Gold Medalist to win a professional heavyweight title.

Cycling crashes

One thing about cycling whether on the road or on the track is that sooner or later you will witness a crash. Normally these events somehow the cyclists get back up and back on their bikes. In the 1000m Scratch Sprint race there was a horrific crash (pictured) in the repechage in the quarter finals when Frank le Normand of France suffered a burst tire and took out Stéphan Martens of Belgium. Falling unto concrete and then grass on the infield.

Under the rules of cycling such a crash demands a rerun of all four competitiors but Normand being hospitaslised was unable to take part and Martens was so badly injured that he wasn't able to put up a showing.

See also: The full list of my blogs about previous Olympics

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