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London athletes' memories of the 1948 Olympics

By Catherine Donohoe & Laura Foster
BBC London

London athletes that competed in the 1948 share their memories of the Games and thoughts about the 2012 Olympics.

George Weedon and Frank Turner, former Olympic gymnasts.  They have remained friends.
Former Olympic gymnasts George Weedon and Frank Turner

In July 1946 the decision that London was to host the Games had just been announced - London had just over 24 months to prepare.

BBC London goes back 62 years to look at what was to be later known as the Austerity Games through the eyes of the London athletes who took part.

Frank Turner, 87, grew up in the East End of London and was captain of the British gymnastic team during the 1948 Olympic Games.

"The 1948 Olympics were the austere Olympics. No one else would have it; no one could afford it. The Olympics of '48 was done on a shoestring."

George Weedon, 90, from Sheen, was a fellow gymnast alongside Frank: "[In my opinion] it was too early for the Olympics really. I think there were so many buildings, education and facilities that weren't there that had to be built up and I think that took priority.

"But... I think it was something, in a way, to look forward to."

Ron Cooper "putting on this blazer takes me back 60-odd years."
Ron Cooper "putting on this blazer takes me back 60-odd years."

Ron Cooper, 82, from Newham, was a lightweight boxer during the 1948 Olympic Games.

"How we ran the games? Don't ask me! All of London was still bombed. We were still trying to get ourselves going. The Olympics gave people a lot of work trying to rebuild London."

Ceremony

The opening ceremony fell just before the Bank Holiday weekend on Thursday 29th July 1948. Over 80,000 spectators turned up to witness the event at Wembley Stadium in the blistering heat.

"From what I can remember the opening ceremony was an absolute shambles. We were all late, rushing in, lining up there, higgledy piggledy."

It's too awesome to think, because you know you're for your country... and then you're ducking from all the pigeons.
Frank Turner

Frank said: "It was very emotional. When the torch came in everyone broke ranks from where we were situated - everyone was going forward to see it."

Performances

In 1948, there were eight men in each national gymnastics team with all competitors having to compete twice on each of the apparatus; parallel bars, pommel horse, rings, long horse and floor. Great Britain came 12th out of 16 countries.

Frank was part of the squad of eight: "Great Britain has come a long way in gymnastics since 1948. We had no hope of winning back then but we participated and that's the main objective in life - to get your goal and rejoice in it.

"I did the sport because I loved doing the sport - not from what I was going to get from it."

George remembers the gymnastics team mainly trained outdoors
George remembers the gymnastics team mainly trained outdoors

George said: "The gymnastics were supposed to be held on Wembley turf. It poured with rain so we had to go to Earl's Court. It was an absolute shambles.

"I remember most of my training for the Games was done outdoors - I used to do a lot of hand balancing.

"When I was learning new moves my coach would say 'go on George, have a go!' Now you learn somersaults with harnesses on a trampoline."

Due to a lack of venue space, the boxing ring was temporarily erected over the Empire Pool at Wembley Arena. The original swimming pool, now empty, still remains underneath the arena floor to this day.

I remember this South American fighter, Pascual Pérez - I'll never forget his name - knocked the referee out and it [the punch] flung him in the water! It was pandemonium.
Ron Cooper

Ron thinks back to his fight against Irish boxing legend Matthew McCullough.

"The first thing I can remember is asking my coach 'when am I on? When am I on?' He told me I'd been on, got knocked out and beaten on points. I don't remember the fight."

Ron took part in the Olympic Games despite having broken one of his hands prior to the fight.

"When I started boxing no way in my lifetime did I think that I'd have been boxing in the Olympic Games - it was an honour."

Over night the Olympic boxing ring was constructed over The Empire Pool  (Wembley Historical Society/ Brent Archives)
Over night the Olympic boxing ring was constructed over Empire Pool (Wembley Historical Society/ Brent Archives)

The future and 2012

"The differences between the Olympics in '48 and the 2012 Olympics are going to be vast because we'll have more money to play with," said Frank.

George said: "The Games of '48 just didn't have the euphoria you've got now."

Ron currently lives in East Ham, just a few miles from the Olympic site in Stratford.

"I'm naturally pleased the Games are going to be in the East End but it's going to be chaos for a couple of weeks. We can't get the trains running now! Can you imagine what it's going to be like with all the buses and trains?

"To carry the torch - that'd be the thing wouldn't it? I'd run a little while - not too far."

A '48 Olympian running the torch at 2012 - what a thing that would be!
Ron Cooper

Frank is also hoping to be involved in London 2012.

"I would love to be alive in 2012 to see it because the job they're doing now is fantastic.

"That's why they've asked me the privilege of lighting the cauldron - which is one of the highest honours you can get.

"I've been nominated to light the torch to the cauldron but I've been recently diagnosed as terminally ill. Alas, I don't think I'll be alive to see the opening ceremony, which I really wanted to do."

Your 1948 memories

Have you got any memories of the 1948 Olympic Games in London? Send in your comments using the form below.

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SEE ALSO
In pictures: 1948 London Olympics
26 Jul 10 |  2012
Wembley Arena to host 2012 events
26 May 10 |  Olympics
Amateur boxing explained
01 Mar 06 |  Boxing
2012 ceremony: your ideas
24 Jun 10 |  2012


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