- Participating nations: 59
- Number of athletes: 4,099 (3,714 men - 385 women)
- Time of year: July 29 - August 14
- Number of events: 136
We have already touched on some of the preparations of Swedish Olympic Committee (SOC) for the Games in London. (See facts about the period 1937-48) There will be more about this later. The war years had been a hard blow to European sports. Rudolf Harbig from Germany had broken world records on both the 400 and the 800 meters, but he never got the chance to show his talent during the Olympic Games. He was killed in the war. Gunder Hägg, and his angry competitor and friend Arne Andersson, didn´t get the chance to compete in Olympic Games either. But Gunder had still made a big success in the United States, and he was able to put a spell on the Swedish people during the war with his world record-breaking races.
London had still not recovered from the war, which meant that a real Olympic village was out of the question. The athletes were instead assigned rooms in military barracks in 13 different places around London, unless they chose to get their own room.
Some felt that the Games “drowned" in the big city of London. That there was also cricket match between England and Australia at the same time, which attracted a lot of the attention from the media and the general public, raised some eyebrows among the out-of-town visitors.
The Swedish team lived in Richmond Park together with 15 other nations, which included the rest of the Nordic and some of the Latin countries.
Record-Breaking Participation60 nations and 5,980 athletes and team officials, obviously a record-breaking number, took part in the Games in London. The Games were opened on July 29 and closed on August 14.The Swedes were then able to look back at two very fortunate weeks. Sweden took second place in the overall ranking of the nations after the outstanding United States. The Swedes were able to take home 45 medals, out of which 16 were gold, eleven were silver, and seventeen were bronze. That number didn´t include the art events, which was still on the program. When looking at the Swedish success story in London, one has to keep in mind that Swedish sports had not suffered as much as the sports of some neighboring countries. Many countries had not yet recovered form the devastating Second World War.
78,000 people had gathered to see the opening ceremony on Empire Wembley Stadium. The audience was full of expectation after twelve years of waiting.
It was unfortunately a very small Swedish troop which entered during the opening ceremony since the team officials had given many of the athletes the day off to prepare for the competitions.
Looking back, it turned out to be a good decision.
Many Swedish HeroesThe Swedish success story produced many heroes. The canoeist Gert Fredriksson, the football team, all the wrestlers, the walkers, William Grut in modern pentathlon and many others.Grut made sure that the gold medal in modern pentathlon, which Sweden had successfully held on to before losing it in Berlin, was put back where it belonged - in Sweden.
Gert Fredriksson started off his Olympic career by taking two gold medals. His career was destined to be a great one as he went on to take six Olympic gold medals, one silver and one bronze during four Olympic Games.
Gert Fredriksson´s spurt when winning the 1,000 meters was described as: “. then it was as if all the others had run aground and only Gert Fredriksson continued". The man behind this vivid description was Åke Hall, a reporter for “Göteborgs-Posten", a daily Gothenburg newspaper.
Sweden took three medals on Wembley Stadium, the main arena. This was enough to make the large crowd of Swedish supporters sing the national anthem like never before. The British were intrigued and must have thought that Sweden was a nation of superb singers. One British magazine wrote:
“It is always sung with pride and sincerity by the Northerners this, the most fascinating auditory sensation of the Olympiad".
The Superior LjunggrenThe walker John Ljunggren won the 50-kilometer walk in intense heat by a seven-minute margin. He went on to participate in four more Olympic Games and increased his medal collection by a bronze medal in Melbourne and a silver medal in Rome. He won all his medals in the special 50-kilometer distance.
The first Swedish gold medal went to Arne Åhman in the triple jump. His winning jump came in his first attempt, which measured 15.40 meters, four centimeters better than Avery from Australia.
The blue ribbon of running - the 1,500 meters - gave Henry Eriksson a gold medal. The three Swedes were all potential candidates for the gold medal and Sweden would have been in a state of national mourning if none of the Swedes had managed to win the race.
The conditions were perhaps not the best; the track was wet and heavy. After one kilometer the Swedes had had enough and Eriksson, Lennart Strand and Gösta “Sågmyra" Bergkvist picked up the speed and swept past the rest of the field. Coming out of the last curve, Strand tried to pass Henry Eriksson but he could never get past his rival and friend. The gold and the silver medals went to Sweden; “Sågmyra" ended up in fifth place.
The honor of the nation had been saved, and a similar triumph in the most prestigious of athletics events will be hard to repeat.
A Notch BetterThe 1,500 meters resulted in a double Swedish victory, but the Swedish performance in the 3,000-meter steeplechase was a notch better. Just like in the 1,500 meters, the medals were considered to be “in the bag", even before the race had started.
The track was heavy in this race too, which soon became evident to those who didn´t portion out their energy as well as the Swedes did.
It was primarily Erik Elmsäter who made sure that the speed was high enough to take his opponents out of the race, one by one. The 1946 European Champion, Pujazzon of France, was probably the greatest threat, but with two laps left to go he had used up all his energy and was forced to drop out of the race.
Starting at the last hurdle, Tore Sjöstrand made a final spurt, running at a speed which Elmsäter was unable to match. But there was plenty of drama farther back in the field as well. The third Swede, Göte Hagström, was in fifth place with one lap to go, and he didn´t seem to have a shot at taking the bronze. The Finn Siltaloppi was in third place, and the Frenchman Cuyodo was in fourth.
Siltaloppi took a dive in the last water jump, and that seemed to give Hagström the extra power needed to gain the 30 meters needed to catch up with, and pass, the Frenchman. Once again, the Swedish section of the audience had reason to celebrate.
Great Wrestlers - As UsualAs usual, the Swedish wrestlers were responsible for the largest number of Swedish medals. The freestyle competitions resulted in three silver medals and three bronze medals.
The 6th of August has to be Sweden´s most successful day in Olympic history.
It started with gold and silver medals in the 1,500 meters at Wembley Stadium. Later, in Empress Hall, the eight Graeco-Roman wrestling finals resulted in five gold medals and two silver medals.
There are many stories behind the Swedish wrestling medals, here are some of them:
In the bantamweight class, Kurt Pettersson was facing the almost impossible task of defeating Ali Hassan of Egypt. According to all the experts, he was the obvious gold medallist in the class. But he was defeated by the Swede who won by 3-0.
In the lightweight class, Gustaf Freij, who had never even won a Swedish wrestling championship before the Olympics, swept the floor with his opponents.
Gösta Andersson´s gold-winning performance in the welterweight class had some heroic overtones. He managed to defeat his Hungarian opponent by 3-0 in the final, despite having an oozing cut on his forehead.
In the middleweight final, Axel Grönberg was up against Taifur from Turkey. Grönberg was so exhausted after the game that he had to be carried out to the locker room. Meeting the Turkish wrestlers was quite demanding at this time. They would always weigh in at weight well below what they usually weighed and were always quite a bit heavier at the end of the tournament.
Karl-Erik Eriksson in the light heavyweight was not assumed to have a chance before the tournament. The draw had matched him up with difficult opponents and no one ever thought he would be able to win the gold medal.
There could have been two more gold medals, but Tor Nilsson in the heavyweight and Olle Anderberg both lost against their Turkish opponents in the finals. But there were discussions about whether or not the matches had been fair.
Classical Football TriumphAnother classic is the Swedish victory in the football tournament. The Swedish coach duo, George Raynor and Putte Kock, believed in the idea that the very best players should play. But that meant that they were forced to deviate from the normal strategy that the teams used at the time. Sweden had more halfbacks than what was needed and Raynor/Kock then decided to let the two out-fielders Nisse Lidholm and Kjell Rosén take on defensive roles in the mid-field. This strategy led to a revolution in football and worked very well.
Sweden used only twelve players during the four Games of the tournament, which ended in a final 3-1 victory against Yugoslavia. The wet and heavy field made for a tough final. But the Swedes managed to win the game despite the pressure from the Yugoslavians in the second half.
Almost all the players on the winning Swedish team received offers from professional teams in Spain and Italy. This marked the beginning of the big emigration of Swedish players to professional clubs around Europe.
Nisse Lidholm, Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordahl and Henry “Garvis" Carlsson are only a few of the players who became successful on the continent.
A Dutchwoman Steals the HeadlinesThe participant who got most of the attention, internationally, was a woman! The Dutchwoman Fanny Blankers-Koen took four gold medals in athletics. That she was also a mother of two didn´t exactly decrease the attention given to her achievement.
Harrison Dillard from the United States also created quite a stir. He completely dominated the 110-meter hurdles, and before the American trials he had won 80 races in a row and was a favorite for the gold in London. But he took down four hurdles in the qualifying round and was disqualified. He instead decided to try to qualify for the 100 meters. Not only did he qualify, he won the whole event! But Dillard wasn´t willing to settle down, he wanted a gold in his favorite event and decided to continue training for four more years. He was finally able to win his gold medal as a “veteran" in Helsinki four years later.