Jul 15, 2022 – Seventy years ago in Helsinki, an expanded and revitalized Olympics provided a welcome boost to a world recovering from war. His string of sporting achievements still looks remarkable today, as Finns continue to enjoy the legacy of the Games in this 70th anniversary year.
Czechoslovakian Emil Zátopek was the outstanding star in athletics, setting new world records in the 5,000m, 10,000m and the marathon – which he entered for the first time after a last-minute decision. He remains the only athlete to have won all three events at the same Games.
Sprinter Marjorie Jackson has become Australia’s first female Olympic champion in 20e century, winning gold medals and world records in the 100m and 200m. Hungarian women have won 7 of the 15 available medals in swimming, while the men have been crowned Olympic soccer champions. And in equestrian competitions, when women competed alongside men for the first time in mixed events, Denmark’s Lis Hartel won silver in dressage, despite being paralyzed below the knees due to polio. .
A false start
Helsinki was ready to host the Games in 1940, but preparations got off to a bad start when the outbreak of World War II led to their cancellation. But, with many venues already built, the Finnish capital seized the opportunity to host the Games 12 years later. They took place as the Cold War was beginning. Amid fierce competition between the Soviet Union and the United States, Helsinki hosted 5,000 athletes from more countries than ever before.
With its combination of venues built for 1940 and new facilities provided by Finland’s post-war reconstruction programme, Helsinki dispelled doubts about its ability to host the Games. Widely used and renovated since, these Olympic venues are a lasting legacy and are still at the heart of city life.
The Games were held at a total of 19 venues. Of these, 14 were pre-existing and 4 were built specifically for the 1952 Games; the temporary Meilahti rowing stadium was then dismantled. In all, 15 are still in service today.
One of the earliest structures, the Olympic Stadium, hosted athletics, show jumping and football, as well as the Opening and Closing Ceremonies for up to 70,000 spectators. Used variously since then for air defense, television broadcasts and private weddings, it remains a famous landmark and vantage point today. Its Marathon Tower is 72.71m tall, the length of Finnish hero Matti Järvinen’s gold medal javelin throw at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles.
The stadium has undergone some renovations over the past 70 years. Having become a multi-purpose hall with a capacity reduced to 40,000 seats, it still hosts a range of sporting and cultural events, including more than 20 different sports to date.
The World Athletics Championships, European Athletics Championships and UEFA Women’s Euro have all been held there, while the Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson and Madonna have all performed there. Meanwhile, tourists continue to visit the impressive Sports Museum of Finland, housed in the west wing of the stadium. Each year, the Olympic Stadium welcomes some 600,000 visitors.
A two-minute bike ride away, the Helsinki Swimming Stadium was built for the 1940 Games, then used to store herring and root vegetables for Finnish troops during the war. It hosted swimming, diving and water polo in 1952, and today has a 50m swimming pool, diving pool, children’s pool, weightlifting area , etc. Open during the summer months, it is no longer used for international competitions but welcomes nearly 300,000 visitors each year. Several football grounds, the Velodrome and the Taivallahti are also used today for football, cycling and rowing respectively.
Helsinki’s second participation in hosting the Summer Olympics has more than doubled its social housing legacy. The 1940 Olympic Village – built to accommodate 3,200 athletes – was home to 500 families long before Helsinki’s second bid. In 1952, its slightly larger twin housed 4,800 competitors in 545 apartments in 13 buildings. Also in the Kaplya district, it has also been converted into social housing.
The two Villages are always popular with residents, who appreciate their calm and green environment, as well as the architecture and the quality of the construction.
The tradition of volunteerism takes off
Helsinki 1952 marked the moment when the Olympic tradition of volunteerism took off. The previous summer’s 1948 ‘Austerity Olympics’ – held in London amid post-war food rationing – had seen the first force of Olympic volunteers. Four years later, the Helsinki 1952 Organizing Committee introduced a rigorous process for selecting and training volunteers, laying a solid foundation for Olympic volunteering today. Volunteers with varied skills were invited, from various backgrounds. They included civil servants, amateur sports officials and ordinary citizens. After their training, they helped provide a range of services, from translation to pitch maintenance.
In another break with past reliance on the military or scout brigades, around one in four of the 2,192 volunteers were women, whose growing involvement in Olympic volunteering in the years that followed contributed to advancing gender equality.
“Helsinki 1952 lives on today, and not just in the memory of older Finnish citizens,” said Jan Vapaavuori, President of the Finnish Olympic Committee. “The city still bears its mark in the many Olympic venues that remain central to Helsinki’s social and cultural life. The Olympic Movement also owes a debt to the organizers, who saw the opportunity and value of the mobilization of citizen volunteers. These are a vital part of the living legacy of each new Olympic Games.”
The 70e anniversary of the Olympic Games Helsinki 1952 will be marked by an “Olympic Day” event to be held on July 20 in and around the Olympic Stadium. Open and free to the public, the event will offer visitors the opportunity to try their hand at a variety of sports, guided by instructors from local clubs. The Finnish Sports Museum will also be open for free, as well as the 1952 Olympic swimming pool. A VIP brunch at the Olympic Stadium will bring together some of the athletes from the Finnish 1952 Olympic team.
For more information on the planned celebrations, please visit https://www.olympiakomitea.fi/olympiapaiva/ (in Finnish only)