Those Games were eventually scrapped altogether when Hitler invaded Poland.
And then there was 1948. With World War II three years in the past, London, even with much of the city still in rubble, hosted. Japan, a chief enemy of the allies, notified British officials that it intended to compete.
“This caused a flurry at the Foreign Office where it was felt their presence would cause ‘serious public resentment,’ ” historian Janie Hampton wrote in her book about the 1948 Olympics.
The problem was that an official peace agreement hadn’t been signed.
“Japan was still technically an enemy,” Hampton wrote, “and its athletes could not attend any function at which the King was present.”
Germany was also banned, but at least the country didn’t make a big deal of it.
But Japanese officials were not happy.
And neither was Johannes Sigfrid Edstrom, the president of the International Olympic Committee. He thought both countries should attend, sending a letter to British officials, according to Hampton, that said: “I am surprised that you take this attitude three years after the war has ended. We men of sport ought to show the way for the diplomats.”
His plea went nowhere.
In some ways, the Olympics that Japan is hosting now will have the feel of the 1948 Games — austere, but for obviously different reasons.
The global pandemic has caused a drastically scaled-back scene. No spectators are allowed to attend events, not even family members. Athletes will not be allowed to party. There are even cardboard beds in the Olympic Village, which are designed, depending on whom you ask, either for sustainability or to prevent more than one person at a time from using them.
Back in 1948, in bombed-out London, the Games were even more somber. Athletes had to bring their own towels. There was no Olympic Village; competitors stayed in old military camps. German prisoners of war were ordered to build roads. They became known as the “austerity Olympics.”
Still, there were stars.
One of them was Fanny Blankers-Koen, a track star known as the “Flying Housewife” because she was 30 years old and had two children. She won four gold medals.
Japan would have to wait until 1952 to compete again.
Its first postwar gold medal was won by Shohachi Ishii, a wrestler.
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