Old Photos: 1948 London Olympics

This article was published in the Life Magazine on August 23, 1948.

American Athletes Sweep the Olympics

They win 38 gold medals in games marked by many broken records, lots of rain but few quarrels – California beats all except three countries, but Dutch housewife takes top individual honors.

For 17 days – except for one night when there was trouble with the gas line – the torch flamed brightly in Wembley, England. From July 29 to Aug. 14 it was the symbol of the 14th modern Olympiad. Last week, after a brief closing ceremony, the gas was turned off and 5,000 athletes from 59 nations were on their way home.
The ceremonial dignity of the Wembley Olympiad was no match for the neopagan histrionics which characterized Adolf Hitler’s 1936 spectacle in Berlin. But by the athletic standards the show was superb, despite the fact that the weather was the worst in Olympic history (the sun shone only three days). The general decorum of competing athletes was admirable, and only a very slight international tension followed a disputed U.S. victory in the 400-meter relay. The U.S. team of sprinters won the race by seven yards but was disqualified when a British judge ruled that the Americans had passed the baton in an illegal manner. When the film record of the race proved the judge had erred, the U.S. was adjudged the winner in an elaborate show of good feeling. This deprived the British of their only track and field gold medal and gave the Americans another to add to the 10 they had already won.
The U.S. Olympic sweep – 38 first-place medals- was overwhelming. In men’s track and field and swimming the U.S. scored more first and second places than all Europe combined, although the final unofficial point totals reflected the prowess of other countries in such peripheral sports as fencing and Greco-Roman wrestling. Considering comparative manpower and coaching standards, the parade of the U.S. track and field winners to the Wembley Stadium victory platforms was no surprise. And the unprecedented U.S. triumph in men’s swimming was made possible only because the Japanese were not permitted to compete. (Other absentees: the Germans, who were not invited, and the Russians who snubbed the whole show.)
California athletes alone scored more points than any country except Sweden, France and Hungary. The two U.S. sensations were both Californians: Vicky Draves, who won both of the women’s diving championships, and Bon Mathias, a 17-year-old schoolboy who won the decathlon. But the greatest Olympic performer was not an American at all. It was Holland’s Fanny Blankers-Koen, the only person to win three individual championships.

The U.S. Olympic teams leaving on the SS America. July 1948.
© Time Inc.Cornell Capa

The U.S. Olympic team members preparing to leave on the SS America.© Time Inc.Cornell Capa
Torchbearer Henry Allen Bishop holding torch.© Time Inc.Mark Kauffman
Athletes competing in running events at Wembley Stadium. © Time Inc.William Sumits
Athletes competing in 400-meter men’s relay final.© Time Inc.Frank Scherschel
US athlete Lorenzo Wright (C) competing in long jump event.© Time Inc.William Sumits
7,000 pigeons being released during formal opening ceremony of Olympic Games at Wembley Stadium.© Time Inc.Frank Scherschel
Competitors diving into pool during swimming events.© Time Inc.Ed Clark
High diving winner Vicki Manolo Draves.© Time Inc.Ed Clark
Athletes competing in running event.© Time Inc.Ed Clark
US champion and winner of high hurdles Bill Porter (R) patting teammate on the head.© Time Inc.Mark Kauffman
Crowd watching Swedish calisthenic demonstration.© Time Inc.Mark Kauffman
Javelin throw winner Herma Baumer of Austria holding javelin.© Time Inc.Frank Scherschel
Rowing event being held on Thames River. © Time Inc.Frank Scherschel
Fanny Blankers-Koen of the Netherlands competing in running event.© Time Inc.Mark Kauffman
Turkish heavyweight champion Ahmet Kirecci (C) being hoisted to shoulders of admirers after winning finals of Greco-Roman wrestling event in Olympic Games.© Time Inc.Mark Kauffman
Velleda Cesari (L) and Marie Cerra of US competing in fencing event.© Time Inc.William Sumits
Distance champion Emil Zatopek (R) running with his characteristic agonized expression as he finishes the last lap of the 10,000 meter race in which he set a new record during the Olympic games at Wembley Stadium.© Time Inc.Frank Scherschel
Bicyclists competing at Wembley Stadium.© Time Inc.Frank Scherschel
American bantamweight Joseph DePietro competing in weightlifting event at the Summer Olympics where he took the gold.© Time Inc.Mark Kauffman
US runner Fanny Blankers-Koen (R) setting Olympic record of 11.2 seconds in 80-meter hurdles. © Time Inc.Mark Kauffman
US pole vaulter Guinn Smith (above, R) attempting to break world record.© Time Inc.Mark Kauffman


Queen Elizabeth (R) wearing scarf over feathered hat while standing w. daughter Princess Margaret as they visit 450-acre marshland area which was used to augment country’s food supply during WWII.February 1948.© Time Inc.