BRITAIN ALSO RAN
By HAROLD M. ABRAHAMS
THE 1948 Olympic Games ended last Saturday, and on all hands they have been acknowledged as an unqualified success. I myself have been present at four previous Olympics, and for the first time I felt that the atmosphere of those competing and, above all, of those watching, was everything that could have been desired. Lest I should be thought biased, since after all it was mainly British spectators who were watching, let me say at once that in con- versations with many visitors from various lands I found all full of praise for the organisation and the spirit. Take one incident alone—the 400 metres men's relay. On that final Saturday of the track and field athletics, when Great Britain was still without an Olympic champion, suddenly, after our sprinters had finished half a dozen yards behind the United States, it was announced that Great Britain had been awarded the victory and that the U.S.A. had been disqualified.
It was plain from the limited applause which our team received as they mounted the victory rostrum, and the warm valedictory handclapping that accompanied the disconsolate American quartet as they left the ground, that not one per cent. of that vast crowd liked the victory which had been thrust upon us. And I feel sure that when, three days later, it was announced that after seeing the film the Olympic jury had reversed the decision of the judges, everyone heaved a sigh of relief that justice had been done and that we had gained no Olympic honours by a technical fault.
Tluolighout the eight days of track and field events at Wembley Stadium huge crowds showed by their unstinted and kimost im- partial applause that they could appreciate performances irrespective of nationality. Brilliant Mrs. Blankers Koen of the Netherlands might rob British athletes of three victories which they would otherwise have achieved ; our own Mrs. Dorothy Tyler might lose the women's high jump, the last event of the meeting, by a rule which few understood, but I always seemed to detect coupled with the dis- appointment that wonderful quality of British fairness, and I feel humbly proud that as the host country we played our part to perfection. Furthermore, the applause accorded to those who so very nearly succeeded was admirable. As one of the few who publicly stated that I regretted the decision to hold the Games in London—I feared we could hardly be expected to overcome the many difficulties of organisation in so short a time as that available— I respectfully pay my small tribute to those who worked so hard and achieved so much. The Games were an unqualified success.
Before I pass to the track and field events which are my particular hobby, let me summarise the results. Sixty nations sent about 6,000 athletes to compete in the 117 events which comprised the pro- gramme in seventeen different sports. Twenty-three countries return with one or more Olympic victors. Thus the one fact that stands out clearly above all others is that more than half the countries who honoured us with a visit return from the point of view of victories empty-handed, and I myself look forward to the day when fewer and fewer of the competing countries return without a crown.
What of the thirty-three track and field events for men and women which occupied the attention of perhaps half a million spectators during the eight days at the Stadium ? First, the standard generally was higher than I expected, though in some events, all of them field events, the successful performances were rather lower than I had anticipated. Next, it is most interesting to see new countries coming into the picture. Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Jamaica and the .Netherlands gained victories in track and field for the first time. In the sprints Panama recorded its first place-winner in Lloyd La Beach, who finished third in the too and zoo metres. The Netherlands in W. Slijkhuis had third place, again for the first time, in the 1,500 and 5,000 metres. Czechoslovakia had a brilliant winner in the io,000 metres, Emile Zatopek, with an incredible style both as regards actual running and tactics. He failed to achieve a double victory when Gaston Reiff of Belgium beat him by a narrow margin in the 5,000 metres. Australia won the high jump for the first time. Hungary was successful in the hammer.
The United States gained her usual crop of victories, twelve in all. Again she had all her representatives in the finals of the too, 200
and 400 metres. Again she won both relays—though but for mis- fortune in the 1,600 metres relay Jamaica might have wrested this title from her. She maintained her unbroken run of victories in the pole vault, though ICataja of Finland was at one time within an ace of winning. She was placed first, second and third in the weight (all beating the previous Olympic record), and the youngest member of her team, seventeen-year-old Mathias, achieved a brilliant victory in the decathlon, which very nearly rivalled in duration a six-day cycle event, and went on almost incessantly for twelve hours, concluding not far short of it p.m. at night. She
was placed first, second and third in the I 10 metres hurdles, without her best performer at the distance, Harrison Dillard, who had the audacity to compete in and win the too metres sprint. The achieve-
ments of Sweden, with five champions and twenty-three athletes placed in the first six, and the almost total eclipse of Finland—one modest victory in the javelin and only one other athlete in the first three—call for some explanation. Is it that Sweden was neutral in the world conflict and that Finland suffered acutely in the war ? Has the food situation in these countries anything to do with the result ? Well it is, of course, anyone's guess, but the fact remains that Finland, who in the last four or five Games has dominated the distance events, failed in placing any athlete at all in any event except the steeplechase, where a Finn finished fifth. She had no one in the 5,000 or io,000 metres, no one in the Marathon.
What of Great Britain ? No one who has closely followed world athletics could have failed to recognise the prospective standard of world performances, and I am not anxious to belittle, the achieve- ments of other nations or make excuses for our own athletes. Though we achieved no victory, there is a great deal from which we can and should take reasonable satisfaction. In the too metres for the first time ever we had two finalists. In the 800 metres H. J. Parlett reached the final, having run in his semi-final in I min. 50.9 sec. If we look at previous times in the Games, we find that in 1932 only, when T. Harnpson of Great Britain won in the world-record time of x min. 49.8 sec., has Parlett's time been beaten. Nothing is here for tears.
Again in the 1,500 metres G. W. Nankerville, who ran sixth, accomplished a time which has only been bettered by one English- man and five other athletes in the whole history of the Games (excluding the 1948 times). Our runners in the distance races (except the Marathon) and the steeplechase were frankly out-classed, as they were in the vast majority of the field events. But in the two walking races we might so easily have done better (though we had two athletes placed in the first six in each). As for the Marathon, for the third time in succession Great Britain finished second. T. Richards was only sixteen seconds behind the winner, Cabrera from Argentina. Sixteen seconds in 2 hr. 34 min. 51.6 sec. represents a difference of only 0.17 per cent.
As for Great Britain's women competitors, I think they did magnificently. Miss D. G. Manley, Miss A. D. Williamson and Miss M. Gardner were second in the too, 200 and 8o metres hurdles respectively, the winner in each case being the outstanding " star " of the Games, Mrs. Blankers Koen. All assuredly are young enough to compete again at Helsinki four years hence. As for the high jump, I can hardly remember any event which stirred my emotions more. At Berlin in 1936 Miss Dorothy Odam jumped the same height as the, winner from Hungary, 5 ft. 3 in. She gained second place because of the rule then in force for deciding ties. Two days later the rule was altered, and had the new rule been in force at Berlin Miss Odam would have been an Olympic victor. Time passes. Miss Odam becomes Mrs. Tyler and the mother of two children. She returns to high jumping. Again she clears the same height as the victor, 5 ft. 61 in. Again she loses by reason of the rule which decides ties—an Olympic record-holder yet not a victor. But the moral is plain. There is so very little difference nowadays between even the first six at the Olympics that we can legitimately be proud of our "also ram."