1952 Summer Olympics

Facts

Competition type Olympic Games
Host city Helsinki, Finland (Venues)
Opening ceremony 19 July
Closing ceremony 3 August
Competition dates 14 July – 3 August
OCOG Organising Committee for the Games of the XV Olympiad
Participants 4933 from 69 countries
Medal events 149 in 23 disciplines
Other events 2 in 2 disciplines

Overview

In 1952, the biggest news from Helsinki was that the Soviets were coming. After the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the USSR had not competed in the Olympics until the Helsinki Games. The world braced for the athletic battles between the Soviet Union and the United States – in effect, a cold-war Olympics. The Soviets were accorded one rather unusual allowance. They were set up in a separate Olympic Village and housed only with athletes from the Eastern Bloc countries of Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, and Czechoslovakia.

Other political problems were becoming more difficult for the IOC to manage. The IOC had to face the question of the two Germanies, the two Koreas, and the two Chinas. The only resolution in 1952 began when Germany was allowed to compete with a titular combined East and West team, although the team had no athletes from East Germany in 1952.

The Opening Ceremony was interrupted by a rather obese young girl in long, flowing robes, who ran around the track, to the extent that she could, ascended the official rostrum and began a peace speech. She was quickly removed. This set the stage for the moment that no Finn present will ever forget.

It is always an exciting moment when the Olympic torch enters the stadium. In 1952 the excitement was palpable when the Finnish crowd realized that the torchbearer was the Finnish hero of heroes, Paavo Nurmi. Although now a 55-year-old, Nurmi carried the torch on high and still had the very familiar stride. Not only the crowd, but even the athletes were excited. They broke ranks to run to the side of the track to get closer to the distance running legend. At the end of one circuit of the track, Nurmi handed the torch to Hannes Kolehmainen, second only to Nurmi among the Finnish pantheon of sporting heroes. The 62-year-old Kolehmainen ascended the stairs of the stadium and lit the Olympic flame at the top of the tower.

Given that the Games were opened by two of the greatest distance runners ever, it was fitting that the 1952 Olympics were dominated by a distance runner who even surpassed a few of their feats. Emil Zátopek, the Czech who had won the 10,000 metres in 1948, was by now the greatest distance runner in the world. He entered the 5,000 and 10,000 metres and won both of them rather easily. His wife, Dana Zátopková, also won a gold medal in the women’s javelin throw. Legend has it that Emil stated that the family battle for gold medals was too close, only 2-1, and so he would win another in the marathon. He had never before run a marathon.

Still, the extra distance did not deter Zátopek. He was running with the favored Jim Peters of Great Britain for the first half of the race when he turned to Peters and asked him if the pace wasn’t a bit fast. Peter replied that it was actually too slow so Zátopek took off and was never seen again by Peters. Zátopek won the race by over 2½ minutes, while Peters failed to finish.

The Americans and the Soviets met several times in these Olympics, most notably in the boxing ring. In 1952 the Americans had the best of it, though the Soviets would improve in the coming years. The press made a big thing out of the medal counts, which were led early by the Soviet Union, although the United States eventually won the most. This too would change in Olympics to come.

Bid process

Bid voting at the 41st IOC Session in Stockholm on 21 June 1947:

Round 1 Round 2
Helsinki Finland 14 15
Los Angeles, California United States 4 5
Minneapolis, Minnesota United States 4 5
Amsterdam Netherlands 3 3
Detroit Michigan United States 2
Chicago, Illinois United States 1
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania United States 0

Athens (Greece), Lausanne (Switzerland) and Stockholm (Sweden) had entered preliminary bids.

Ceremonies

Officially opened by Juho Kusti Paasikivi (President)
Torchbearer(s) Hannes Kolehmainen (Lit flame), Paavo Nurmi (Lit secondary flame)
Taker of the Athlete's Oath Heikki Savolainen
Flagbearers Full list

Medal Disciplines

Artistic Gymnastics Diving Rowing
Athletics Equestrian Dressage Sailing
Basketball Equestrian Eventing Shooting
Boxing Equestrian Jumping Swimming
Canoe Marathon Fencing Water Polo
Canoe Sprint Football Weightlifting
Cycling Road Hockey Wrestling
Cycling Track Modern Pentathlon

Other Disciplines

Handball Pesäpallo

Medal table

NOC Gold Silver Bronze Total
United States USA 40 19 17 76
Soviet Union URS 22 30 19 71
Hungary HUN 16 10 16 42
Sweden SWE 12 13 10 35
Italy ITA 8 9 4 21
Czechoslovakia TCH 7 3 3 13
France FRA 6 6 6 18
Finland FIN 6 3 13 22
Australia AUS 6 2 3 11
Norway NOR 3 2 0 5
Switzerland SUI 2 6 6 14
South Africa RSA 2 4 4 10
Jamaica JAM 2 3 0 5
Belgium BEL 2 2 0 4
Denmark DEN 2 1 3 6
Turkey TUR 2 0 1 3
Japan JPN 1 6 2 9
Great Britain GBR 1 2 8 11
Argentina ARG 1 2 2 5
Poland POL 1 2 1 4
Canada CAN 1 2 0 3
Yugoslavia YUG 1 2 0 3
Romania ROU 1 1 2 4
Brazil BRA 1 0 2 3
New Zealand NZL 1 0 2 3
India IND 1 0 1 2
Luxembourg LUX 1 0 0 1
Germany GER 0 7 17 24
Netherlands NED 0 5 0 5
Islamic Republic of Iran IRI 0 3 4 7
Chile CHI 0 2 0 2
Austria AUT 0 1 1 2
Lebanon LBN 0 1 1 2
Ireland IRL 0 1 0 1
Mexico MEX 0 1 0 1
Spain ESP 0 1 0 1
Republic of Korea KOR 0 0 2 2
Trinidad and Tobago TTO 0 0 2 2
Uruguay URU 0 0 2 2
Bulgaria BUL 0 0 1 1
Egypt EGY 0 0 1 1
Portugal POR 0 0 1 1
Venezuela VEN 0 0 1 1

Most successful competitors

Athlete Nat Gold Silver Bronze Total
Viktor Chukarin URS 4 2 0 6
Emil Zátopek TCH 3 0 0 3
Mariya Horokhovska URS 2 5 0 7
Edoardo Mangiarotti ITA 2 2 0 4
Nina Bocharova URS 2 2 0 4
Hrant Shahinyan URS 2 2 0 4
Yekaterina Kalinchuk URS 2 1 0 3
Ford Konno USA 2 1 0 3
Yrjö Hietanen FIN 2 0 0 2
Kurt Wires FIN 2 0 0 2
Henri Saint Cyr SWE 2 0 0 2
Hans von Blixen-Finecke, Jr. SWE 2 0 0 2
Russell Mockridge AUS 2 0 0 2
André Noyelle BEL 2 0 0 2
Christian d'Oriola FRA 2 0 0 2
Pál Kovács HUN 2 0 0 2
Katalin Szőke HUN 2 0 0 2
Pat McCormick USA 2 0 0 2
Marjorie Jackson AUS 2 0 0 2
George Rhoden JAM 2 0 0 2
Harrison Dillard USA 2 0 0 2
Lindy Remigino USA 2 0 0 2
Andy Stanfield USA 2 0 0 2

All medalists at these Games