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Page last updated at 10:50 GMT, Monday, 26 July 2010 11:50 UK
From wasteland into Olympic wonderland

By Sajel Karena & Marco Inzinga
BBC London

Gwen and Bert Allison were 22-year-old newly-weds when they attended the 1948 Olympics. Now, they can't wait for 2012.


Gwen and Bert's Olympic journey

London was meant to have hosted the 1944 games before they were cancelled due to the Second World War.

The Olympic committee then decided to present the Games to London for the second time in 1948.

Gwen and Bert in 1947.
Gwen and Bert on their wedding day in 1947

Now in their 80s, Gwen and Bert Allison talk about why it meant so much to go the Games 62 years ago.

"We wanted to go, but it was so hard to get tickets and when his [Bert's] friend said he had two free tickets we said of course we will come with you."

At the time, food and clothing were being rationed, travel and housing was at a shortage; the event became known as the "Austerity Games," said Bert.

Instead of a purpose built village London-based Olympians stayed at home, and foreign athletes were accommodated in old war time barracks and schools.

You couldn't believe how happy people were, everyone joined together everybody was happy, full of joy. It was something that was happening to us.
Gwen Allison

Gwen said: "Everyone was pleased that something great happened in England, people had come to see and look forward to what was going to happen. Everyone hoped it would be a great success - and it was."

"It's so important to bring all these people together," Bert said.

Japan and Germany did not take part, but 59 other nations participated and were represented by over 4,000 athletes.

Britain won 23 medals, three of them were gold. United States of America won the most medals, including 38 gold.

Birds being let out of the cages during the 1948 opening ceremony.
Seven thousand birds where released from cages for the 1948 opening ceremony

Memorable moment

"My favourite moment was when they opened the cage to hundreds of birds and they all flew out and formed a big cloud in the sky and it was a site worth seeing," said Gwen.

People around you were in the same position you were, they had come through the war and the atmosphere was electric. It made you feel proud that all the birds saluted everybody.

"It was beautiful; I will always remember those birds. They impressed you, they were so beautiful."

No reason to be cynical we should go through with this and make it the most successful games.
Bert Allison

Talking about the 2012 facilities, Bert said: "It's so important that we keep them for the local community. All the facilities will be useful the country generally.

"They say it's different with the financial situation but we managed it before and we could do it again."

Into wonderland

The construction for the 2012 Games began in 2007 and it is hoped it will be completed by 2011. There are many changes in comparison to the old and new stadiums.

BBC London arranged for Gwen and Bert to visit the new Olympic site.

Bert explained: "The 1948 [Olympics] was ordinary compared to this. This has got a sparkle, it's modern and it has everything you could wish for in one site and that is very important.

Wembley vs Stratford
Nations participating: 59
Athletes participating: 4,104
Seating: 82,000
Events taking place: 138 in 17 sports

Nations participating: 205
Athletes participating: 18,500 estimated
Seating: 80,000
Events taking place: 300 in 26 sports

They've taken everything into account because it's so compact nothing is wasted, in comparison to the 1948 site."

"Just after the war things hadn't improved very much and it was very difficult for people to get around; you had to walk to most places. We had rationing and petrol was short and there was not much you could do about it," Gwen said.

Eight-hundred thousand people are expected to use public transport to travel to the games on the busiest day.

"It's going to be a great success, I just hope the people will make it a success because there's so much work gone into it and they should just come and see it. You could, feel the atmosphere already. People are keen and keen to do the right thing, I just hope everybody comes," Gwen says.

"We can't wait to come and see the 2012 Olympics."

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