- Participating nations: 69
- Number of athletes: 4,925 (4,407 men - 518 women)
- Time of year: July 19 - August 3
- Number of events: 149
Already after the Games in London, the Swedish IOC president J. Sigfrid Edström wrote that the Games were on the verge of becoming too big, and that the number of athletes should be limited. This is what Edström wrote in the 1948 Olympics book: “With the Games in 1948, the highest peak so far was reached - 60 nations, ten more than in the peaceful Berlin of 1936, 6000 participants and 17 different sports. Many more sports are anxious to join in - handball, roller-skating, women´s hockey, baseball, gliding and many others write me often. Not to mention billiard, chess and other games that have some of the characteristics of sports. But it is impossible to expand the program, it should rather be reduced. Let us hope that the Finns, the energetic organizers of the 1952 Olympic Games, will do just that.
Edström resigned as IOC president after the Games in Helsinki, thereby ending, at the age of 72, a brilliant international career in sports administration. He had had his position since 1946 when he was elected. He had been running against Avery Brundage who now, in 1952, took over from Edström.
Despite Edström´s wish that the Finnish organizers limit the Games they, of course, never did so.
Growing GamesThe Games grew in Helsinki too. There were 149 events in 18 different sports, and the number of athletes was 4,925, compared to the 4,099 athletes who participated in London.The number of sports for women was the same as it had been in London, five that is, but the number of events had increased. In Helsinki, there were 25 events for women, six more than in London. It is therefore a bit strange that the number of participating women in Helsinki decreased to 318 from 385 in London.
Helsinki had waited twelve long and difficult years for the chance to host the Summer Olympics. When the Games were opened on the Saturday of July 19, not even the pouring rain could put a damper on the festive atmosphere in the sold-out Olympic Stadium in the center of Helsinki.
For the first time, and not the last, the two great powers, the United States and the Soviet Union, competed against each other. This was the first time the Soviet Union was in the Games. It had made a previous appearance in the 1912 Games in Stockholm, but that time it had been under the name of Russia. The Soviet Union would live on until 1992.
The Battle of the Great PowersThe Helsinki Games instantly became a battle between the two super nations. The United States finally took first place on the overall ranking list by a very narrow margin after the Soviet Union had taken almost everything in the gymnastic and wrestling events. Gymnastics alone gave the Soviet Union 161 points. The swimming, athletic, boxing and soccer events, on the other hand, resulted in few medals for the Soviets. Many had feared that the Soviet Union would cause problems with protests and quarrels like they had done previously, but none of that happened.
Already in preparation for the Games in 1940, which were cancelled because of the war, Helsinki had built an Olympic Village for 3,200 people in Kottby. But by 1952 people other than Olympic athletes were using the facilities. The Finns solved that problem by building a new village in the same place with room for 4,800 people. But early on it became clear that this would not be enough and, consequently, another village was built in Otnäs, which became a sort of “Eastern European Village", as well as separate villages for the equestrian events, modern pentathlon and sailing.
The ladies were, as usual, not allowed to live in the same village as the male participants, but had to live in a nursing school close to the Olympic Stadium.
In preparation for the Summer and Winter Games, the Swedish Olympic Committee (SOC) had given almost 800,000 crowns to the various sports association to support their preparation for the Olympic Games. The government grants to the Helsinki Olympic team was 400,000 crowns.
Another thing worth noting is that in 1950, the SOC raised the question of hosting the Olympic Games in Stockholm again. The SOC thought that Sweden should bid for the Games of 1960 or 1964. According to the protocol, Bo Ekelund was assigned the task of taking all the necessary measures.
“Ingo´s" Olympic DramaBack to Helsinki and the competitions. Sweden was still doing well and took fourth place in the overall ranking, beaten only by the United States, the Soviet Union and Hungary.
Sweden took medals in 13 sports, which can be compared to the big nations, the United States and the Soviet Union, which took medals in eleven and nine sports respectively.
The most talked-about Swede during the Games in Helsinki was the boxer Ingemar Johansson. “Ingo" was disqualified in the heavyweight final against the American Ed Sanders for being too passive. The match ended between the second and third rounds after “Ingo" had received his third warning. In the exhibition hall, the atmosphere was spiteful towards both “Ingo" and Sweden, and the medal ceremony was not particularly dignified. Ingemar did not receive a medal. The flag pole was empty, but next to it stood a Finnish cadet with the Swedish flag rolled into a ball for the audience to see.
Ingemar´s tactic of staying away from the American and not get himself into fights was, unfortunately, ahead of its time. Later, great champions would imitate his style and be hailed for it. But in Helsinki, it didn´t appeal to the audience, or the judges. But 31 years later, “Ingo" got his restitution and was given back his well-deserved silver medal by Juan Antonio Samaranch.
Nothing to Brag AboutThe Swedish press showed Ingemar no mercy after the final against Sanders, and most agreed the disqualification had been correct!
The role of the SOC in this matter wasn´t much to brag about either. After the disqualification, an extra meeting with the working committee was called in Helsinki and the following telegram sent to the Finnish Olympic officials:
“The SOC, on behalf of itself and the Boxing Association, hereby wishes to express its sincere and unreserved regrets regarding the unsportsmanlike manner in which the Swedish boxer Ingemar Johansson conducted himself during yesterday´s final".
That telegram is hardly something that the SOC or the Boxing Association has any reason to brag about. They acted no better that the unrelenting Swedish press. But there was one exception, Sven “Bem" Ekström, who was also the man who after a lot of work behind the scenes made sure “Ingo" got his medal back.
But there were also nicer things to write home about. Gert Fredriksson took the gold in the 1,000 m canoeing after having been forced to fold to the Finn Thorvald Strömberg in the 10,000 m race. That meant that Gert had taken a total of three gold medals and one silver medal, and there was more to come in future Olympic Games!
Hall Goes Down In HistoryIn the Swedish gold-digging event, modern pentathlon, the success story continues in Helsinki. Lasse Hall, wins the gold and becomes the first person without a military background to win the Olympic modern pentathlon.
Sweden won quite a few medals in wrestling, as usual, but this time the Swedes were more successful in the freestyle than in the Graeco-Roman style. The freestyle wrestling events yielded two gold and two silver medals. The only Swedish gold medal in the Graeco-Roman style went to middleweight wrestler “Acke" Grönberg, who managed to defend the title he had won in London.
In the ten Games he wrestled in London and Helsinki, “Acke" never let his opponents get a single grip. “Acke´s" matches were consequently rather uneventful, but he always dominated his opponents, and the judges would always declare him a winner by 3-0.
The successes in horse riding continued in Helsinki with both individual and team victories in dressage. The individual gold medal went to Henri St Cyr. The team was completed by Gustav Adolf Bolenstern the Younger and Gehnäll Persson.
The team thus got their revenge for what had happened in London four years earlier. They had won but had been forced to give back their medals. The International Equestrian Federation had a rule that said that the competitions should only be open to “gentlemen and officers", the purpose of this rule being to exclude non-commissioned officers who broke in horses as a part of their job. During the Olympic Games in London, the Swedish association had promoted Persson from master sergeant to second lieutenant, which was not permitted. But in Helsinki all the rules had been made clear and Persson´s participation was not a problem.
The team in the three-day-event was as successful as the dressage riders, taking the gold medals in the individual and team events.
Zàtopec - King of the GamesSwedish gold medals were absent from the athletic events, which took place at the Olympic Stadium. The only Swedish medals were two bronze medals, taken by Ragnar “Ragge" Lundberg in the pole vault and Gustaf Jansson in the marathon.
The big name in athletics this time was Emil Zàtopec, from Czechoslovakia, who won the gold medals on 5,000 m, 10,000 m, and in the marathon, an accomplishment which has not been repeated since. Zàtopec had shown already in London that he was the running king of the world by taking a gold and a silver.