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The century-long history of the London Olympics

The 2012 Olympics will be the third time that London has hosted the games. The history of the London Olympics goes back more than a century to the first London games in 1908.

The 1908 Games were the fourth modern Olympiad, and a modest affair by 21st century standards. The White City Stadium, then considered a state-of-the art sports complex, was the main arena. There was a swimming pool and a platform for wrestling inside the running track area.

These games were the beginning of organised sport in many disciplines, and also the birthplace of the Olympic ideal that "the most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part". That didn't mean that there wasn't the usual share of squabbles and controversy, most notably the disqualification of the Italian marathon runner Dorando Pietri who was helped to the finish after taking a wrong turning.

The notion of staging an Olympic games in a bombed-out shell of a city seems absurd to us now, yet that is what happened in London in 1948. Nowhere else in Europe was up to the task, and the London Games were staged as a celebration of reconciliation.

The sporting highlight of the Austerity Games was the medal haul of the Dutch sprinter Fanny Blankers-Coen who won 4 golds on the Wembley track. She would probably have won the long jump and high jump as well had she not been restricted to 3 individual events.

The 2012 Olympics (www.london2012.com) will be on a much grander and more expensive scale, but if the organisers know a little of the history of the London Olympics, they will be happy if their Olympiad leaves the same legacy of goodwill as the previous London Games.

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