Today as I watch events in the 2004 Athens Olympics in glorious technicolour on satellite TV, I fondly recall listening to the 1948 London Games on our old wireless in the spring of that year.
There in our living room in Schoolhouse, Banknock, I learned that in June 1939, the International Olympic Committee had awarded the 1944 Olympic Games to London, but that World War II had forced their cancellation. However, a year after the war ended, London had been selected again, this time to host the 1948 Games to be held between the 19th of July and the 14th of August.
I also heard that, not only would fifty-nine countries be represented by around three thousand seven hundred men and nearly four hundred women, but also that a temporary running track had been constructed within Wembley Stadium as the main venue. Newspaper pictures of the stadium taken well before the completed one shown below excited me to the extent that there and then I decided that, when we got back from our summer holidays in Fife, our ‘Bumpy Ibrox’ would also be converted to become a home for athletics at the ‘Banknock Schoolhouse Olympics’ – two competitors, John Henderson and Robin Profit!
Wembley Stadium in 1948
In the event, as Robin and I had no real idea of what facilities and equipment would be involved, the preparations for our venue were ad hoc and solely determined by what caught our fancy from newspaper reports and photographs of events as the Games progressed.
Our first ‘simulation’ was of the 100m final because of the thrilling commentary heard on the wireless and then seen later as newspaper shots of its start and its finish - an unexpected winner in the form of high hurdler, Harrison Dillard - and of course our joy at Scotland’s Alistair McCorquodale coming in fourth – alas ….so near and yet so far from a medal.
The Start of the 100m in 1948
The Finish of the 100m in 1948
Dillard (69) from the United States 1st, McCorquodale (36) from Great Britain 4th, LaBeach (57) from Panama 3rd and Ewell (70) from United States 2nd.
1. W. Harrison Dillard (USA) 10.3sec.
2. Barney Ewell (USA) 10.3sec.
3. Lloyd LaBeach (PAN) 10.4sec.
4. Alistair McCorquodale (GBR) 10.4sec.
5. Melvin Patton (USA) 10.5sec.
6. Emmanuel McDonald Bailey (TRI) 10.6sec.
Our straight track for the Banknock sprint was the 30 yard red blaize path running from our schoolhouse garden fence-stile to the back door in the wall of the school playground, and thus it ran alongside the main scrub-grass area of ‘Bumpy Ibrox’ – no starting blocks, no gun, no tape, no cameras, but umpteen heats from which we both of course qualified for our grand-final – which my sister Elizabeth, as sole judge, announced as a dead-heat between JH and RP!
The other highlights that we chose from - because of British successes – silver medals at best – were (in bold below)
Dorothy Manley Athletics Women's 100 Metres - Silver
Maureen Gardner Athletics Women's 80 Metre Hurdles - Silver
Audrey Williamson Athletics Women's 200 Metres - Silver
Dorothy Tyler Athletics Women's High Jump - Silver
Tebbs Lloyd Johnson Athletics 50 000 Metre Walk - Bronze
Alister McCorquodale Athletics 4 x 100 Metre Relay - Silver
John Archer Athletics 4 x 100 Metre Relay - Silver
K.J. Jones Athletics 4 x 100 Metre Relay - Silver
Jack Gregory Athletics 4 x 100 Metre Relay - Silver
Tom Richards Athletics Marathon - Silver
The London hurdles of course involved the legendary Fanny Blankers-Koen of the Netherlands as a winner of four gold medals in the 80m Hurdles, 100m, 200m and 4x100m Relay - but our interest was in Maureen Gardner andrelising how close she had been at the finish with the same time as Blankers-Koen in 11.2 secs …. having slipped back just enough from where she is in the lead in the following shot taken during the race.
Gardner leads …. but …
1. Fanny Blankers-Koen (HOL) 11.2
2. Maureen Gardner (GBR) 11.2
3. Shirley Strickland (AUS) 11.4
4. Yvette Monginou (FRA) 11.8
5. Maria Oberbreyer (AUT) 11.9
6. Libuse Lomska (CZE) 11.9
In later years I learned that Maureen Gardner had married Geoff Dyson the British National Athletics Coach …. And Geoff’s manual on Athletics became my key text-book for the sport when I was training to be a Phys. Ed. Teacher from 1958-61.
We adapted our local hurdles race by running round our circular track on the grass area that had school bean-bags marking out the inner ‘kerb’. The hurdles (four) two at each side of a diameter line were made from canes that rested in the ledges on the top of our cricket stumps … with Elizabeth detailed to run hither and thither to replace them as we periodically knocked them down in our 4-lap race to make roughly 80 metres in all. … If we knocked down more than three hurdles we were disqualified from any of the ten heats that were run. We got zero points for being disqualified, 2 points for a win and 1 point for coming in second. I think I won overall, but I remember clearly that there were more disqualifications than good clean finishes … and quite often, Elizabeth, as the hurdle ‘replacer’, could not possibly be in four places at once, thus replacing a knocked-down cane(s) was not always possible! ….. Good fun, but not very realistic.
The high jump using a scissors technique as we had seen in the newspapers was easy to organise from one point of view as we were able to borrow two stands and a weighted rope from the school. But landings were not into sand as was normal then, so this inhibited us a little. Thus there were a few sore bumps down on to our bottoms to be endured in the heat of competition, which Robin, being much taller than me, to my great annoyance won rather easily.
The changing of the baton in the relays intrigued both of us, so we decided to get Elizabeth to time us as we ran as a team of two against the clock. By experimenting with various ways of passing the baton we definitely improved our times for an eight lap race. When I hear the catch-phrase, ‘Beat the Clock’ on TV nowadays, I remember our original version of it from our ‘athletics’ in 1948.
Our ‘piece de resistance’ was however – The Marathon – so easy to organise, but with some obstacles in our version. Two times round the course - which started with ten laps of ‘Bumpy Ibrox’ - then up through the door in the school-playground wall (which the leader had to open and the follower had to close!) – then six times round the school building – then out the school front gate to the main road (opening and closing the gate as before!) to run left along the pavement for 50 yds to Bankier Road – then a left-turn down the road to the front garden gate of the Schoolhouse (opening and closing as before!) - twice round the gravel path around the schoolhouse – then over the stile to be greeted by the roars of the imagined awaiting throngs in ‘Bumpy Ibrox’, and, then, after the second grand circle of the course, doing two final laps of the track to the finish. Robin and I liked this event so much, and trusted each other so explicitly in the counting of all the numbers of circuits to be travelled en route, that our mini-marathons were still going on in the September well after everyone had gone home from Wembley weeks before!