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London Olympic Games Then and Now: 1908 & 2012

Olympic Flame for the London 2012 Games is lit in Ancient Olympia. Copyright London 2012

The 30th Olympiad of the Modern Era, aka London 2012,  is  here! This is the third time London has hosted the Olympics. The first time was in 1908 (4th Olympiad) and the second was in 1948 (14th Olympiad).  I thought it would be fun to examine how the Olympics have changed in the past 100 years , so I’m going to compare the 1908 with the 2012 London Games.

Feel free to use the information below to impress and amaze your friends and family as you watch the Summer Games.


THEN: There was no designated lodging for the 1,350 overseas competitors– so no Olympic Village. Organizers distributed booklets recommending hotels and boarding houses in the area. The U.S. team decided to stay in the  coastal town of Brighton– 53 miles away.

NOW: Accommodations, along with amenities, are provided to competitors and officials in the Olympic Village. London’s Olympic Village will house up to 16,000 athletes and officials at its peak. You may be wondering when did the Olympic Village first make an appearance?  The first Olympic Village was at the 1932 Los Angeles Games- however it was men only! Women stayed in hotels until the 1956 Games in Melbourne, when the Olympic village was opened to both sexes.

July 13, 1908 Opening Ceremony for the IV Olympiad, London. Photo from International Sport by Theodore Cook, 1910.


THEN:  The 1908 London Games lasted for 6 months, from April 27-Oct. 31, however, the majority of the events were held from July 13-25 with the opening ceremony on July 13.

NOW: The official duration of the Olympics Games is no more than 16 days. The 2012 London Games will be held from July 27 to Aug. 12.


THEN:  There were 22 countries with 2,035 athletes participating. The majority of the countries came from Europe, but also included the countries of Canada, Russia, South Africa, and the United States. The Australasia team were made up of athletes from Australia and New Zealand. There were no Asian, Oceanic, or South American countries represented.

NOW:  According to the London 2012 Organising Committee there are 10,490 athletes from 205 countries. Every region of the world (Africa, Asia, Europe, Oceania, and the Americas), except Antarctica, is represented. The Olympics have truly become a global event!

2012 Olympic Stadium. Photograph by Justin Setterfield for LOCOG. Copyright London 2012.

The Weather:

THEN:  The weather during the July events was, on the whole, considered unfavorable. There was rain and there was heat. A great majority of the events were held outdoors. Shepherd’s Bush stadium (an outdoor venue) was where the competitions for athletics (track & field), cycling, wrestling, gymnastics, and swimming/diving were held. On the day of  the 1000 meter cycling competitions, the track was so wet that that water pooled on the track and the concrete came apart in places. This forced cyclists to move at a slower pace and caused a number of flat tires. Because the conditions were so poor, cyclists could not finish the race in the required time of 1 min 45 seconds, so the officials called the race null and void; it was not replayed.

There are many more incidents in which the weather affected the 1908 games. During the York Round in archery, shooting had to be suspended due to the rain and wind; about half of the marathon runners dropped out due to heat (also see the story of marathon runner Dorando Pietri); and during the shot put event, contestants had difficulty reaching their full capabilities because the iron balls were slippery and the turf was soaking wet.

NOW: The U.K’s Met Office (National Weather Service) is playing an integral role in the Olympics by providing “essential weather information for planning and logistics.” So we should not expect any weather inflicted catastrophes to happen like those in 1908. If you go to its Olympics website you will find weather forecasts, outlooks, and statistics, as well as pages about weather and sport.  According to the Met Office the  forecast for London during the Games includes some of the ubiquitous rain England is know for.

Display of Gymnastics by Danish Ladies, July 1908. Photo scanned from International Sport by Theodore Cook, 1910.


THEN:  Women first took part in the 1900 Paris Olympic Games, four years after the first Olympic Games in 1896. There were 22 women out of 997 athletes who competed in five sports: tennis, sailing, croquet, equestrian, and golf.

The 1908 games had 36 women athletes compete. There were only 5 medal sports in which women competed: archery, figure skating (singles and pairs), rackets (doubles), tennis (singles), and indoor tennis. Sybil “Queenie” Newall took the gold medal in the National Round in archery and became the oldest woman to win a gold medal– aged 53 years and 277 days. Women also participated in an all-day demonstration of a foil (fencing) competition, swimming/ diving exhibition, and gymnastics display.

Each Olympiad, the IOC members would vote on whether to include women’s sports and events. It was not until 1951 that the women’s sports became a permanent part of the Olympic Games.

NOW: Women will compete in every sport in the games of the 30th Olympiad program and each participating country has sent women athletes to compete. I do not have the grand total of 2012 women athletes; however, the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics boasted 4,637 (42.7%) female athletes. I should also note that the 2012 Olympics is the first appearance of a women boxing event.

My fellow LC Bloggers have also written about the Olympics in which they delve into Olympic history, pictures, music, law, poetry, and the story of Jessie Owens.

President Theodore Roosevelt standing with members of the U.S. Olympic team- Sept. 5, 1908


Spending a Summer in D.C.

 Today’s post is by 2012 Junior Fellow Brian Horowitz of  the University of Maryland, College Park. This is Brian’s third year with us (He is continuing his work on the Library’s large collection of Army Technical and Field Manuals). You can read about his work in  Art of War…and of Sandwich Making and Stumbled upon in the […]