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London 1948 and 2012: History repeated?

From Tom McGowan and Christina MacFarlane, CNN
  • The Olympic Games will arrive in London for an unprecedented third time in 2012
  • The British capital has previously held the Summer Games in 1908 and 1948
  • London follows the Chinese capital city of Beijing in hosting the sports extravaganza
  • Opening ceremony will take place at the newly-constructed Olympic Stadium on July 27

(CNN) -- When the Olympics arrived in London in 1948, Britain was debt-ridden and struggling to recover from the devastating effects of World War Two.

The British capital was hosting the first Games for 12 years, and the first since the four-yearly sports showpiece had taken place in Berlin under the glare of Adolf Hitler and Germany's Nazi regime.

London had just 18 months to prepare itself, while also trying to emerge from the rubble created by heavy bombing during the six-year conflict and with a population still restricted to rations.

The event was dubbed the "Austerity Games" due to the financial constraints organizers were operating under, and the shortage of materials and venues.

Fast-forward 63 years, and London 2012 is trying to follow on from the blockbusting show put on by the Chinese capital Beijing four years ago -- on a budget five times smaller, with a population again tackling financial difficulties.

I think it's almost spooky, the similarities in context between the two Games
--Matt Rogan

With London's organizers once more trying to deliver on the back of a heavily-politicized Games with a fraction of the resources, is it fair to compare the challenge facing those running 2012 with the one their predecessors overcame over half-a-century ago?

"I think it's almost spooky, the similarities in context between the two Games," Matt Rogan, author of "Britain and the Olympic Games: Past, Present, Legacy," told CNN.

"In 1948, the Berlin Games was the last we'd had and the Olympic movement really needed redefinition unless it was just going to become a political plaything.

"Wheel forward to where we stand after Beijing, which was, let's make no bones about it, a very explicit political statement ... (and) five times the budget of the Games that we're going to host over here."

The limitations of post-war London in terms of resources and time led to the innovative use of some Games locations.

"In 1948, the mantra was to use facilities that already existed," explained Rogan. "Wembley Arena, which was then the Empire Pool, put on both swimming and boxing, but it was on a very tight timeline.

"What they did was finish the swimming, put some scaffolding over the top of the swimming pool, and put a boxing arena on top of it. So, all of the guys were boxing on top of a swimming pool that was still full."

That adaptable attitude is alive and well in the planning for London 2012, with waste water used to clean the pools at the Aquatics Center, located within Stratford's Olympic Park, also being used to flush the toilets at the 17,500-seater arena.

London will be ready to welcome the world's finest athletes to the greatest Games that have ever been held
--Boris Johnson

Despite similarities between the two Games, Rogan said putting on the Olympics in the 21st century involves far more than just hosting competitive sport.

"That's massively different," he said of the five and a half extra years the city has had in the run-up to 2012 compared to 1948.

"That said, the amount of planning needed to deliver not just a sporting event, but the infrastructure in the whole area of a metropolis like London, you need seven years and then some!"

The investment plunged into public services and transport network seems to have paid off, after London's mayor Boris Johnson declared the city ready to welcome the world in 2012.

"Nothing and no-one is going to stop us in our work of preparing London for the greatest event that has taken place in this city in the last 50 years," Johnson, who assumed office in 2008, said at a public event marking one year until the opening ceremony.

"The Olympic venues are already so ready that we may as well call a snap Olympics tomorrow ... The people of London will be ready to welcome the world's finest athletes to the greatest Games that have ever been held in the greatest city on earth."

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