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London Olympics, 1948 and 2012: Local Brits Remember

The 2012 summer Olympic Games are underway in London, and millions around the world are expected to tune in over the next few weeks to watch the international athletes. This is the third time Great Britain has hosted the games. The last was in 1948, in the wake of World War II.

But at least two former British residents in our region say the games then weren’t the spectacle they are today.

On July 29, 1948, Donald Finlay, British Athletic Team Captain, read the Olympic Oath ... In the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the honor of our country, and for the glory of sport. ... at the start of the summer games.

History remembers the Olympics that year as an important event because it was the first time the games had been held following a 12-year hiatus brought about by World War II. The war in Europe had concluded just three years before, and London still showed the scars of bombings.

“And I think ’48 symboled in many ways, let’s get back to normal," Murray State History Professor Bill Mulligan said. "We’ll gather together and celebrate sport, celebrate this Olympic experience, and try to put the world, which has been all in turmoil for so long, behind us and try to move forward.”

One might imagine then the whole nation gathered together around their radio sets on the day of opening ceremonies, ready to cheer on the athletes. Right?

"Um, no. No, not really," said Terry Carlton. He lives in Paducah, but in 1948, he was a 15-year-old school boy. Carlton said in his hometown of Leeds, England, the family radio only picked up local sports.

“Mum and Dad, you never heard them talk about ‘Oh, well, there’s this big thing down in London. It’s called the Olympics,'" said Carlton.

What about Patricia Perkins, of Murray? In 1948, Perkins had just moved to Weston-super-Mare, an English seaside resort. Does she remember the Olympics?

“No, I don’t," she said. "No, I guess I was too busy doing other things.”

What gives? Shouldn’t a big event like the Olympics be a major part of a young person’s memory? Mulligan said you have to remember what had just happened a few years before. For one thing, World War II had a much bigger affect on Great Britain than it did on the United States.

“In 1948, if you’re a young person, the Olympics far away in London might not register very much as opposed to trying to get back into normal routine, your city being rebuilt, trying to reestablish the normal pattern of your lives," he said.

Mulligan also noted that the Olympics weren’t an overnight success.

“It really has been an evolutionary things, both as media coverage as expanded and the ability to travel to the sites has become easier," Mulligan said.

But that doesn’t mean the Brits didn’t care about sport. Carlton said sport has always been an important part of British culture. In 1947, he held the country’s third highest record for high jump. That same year he remembers participating in a local games competition.

“We did the four by 60 yards relay, and we won it with flying colors," he said. "And I was going that fast in that last lap that I think I went another half a lap before I could stop. But that’s what sports were about in those days.”

Carlton said he’s become an Olympics watcher over the years. He particularly enjoys gymnastics. And he has a strong opinion about the games returning to his home country after 64 years.

“Well, only thing I can say is it’s about time," he said.

Few countries can compare with Great Britain’s spirit of sportsmanship, he added.

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