Games of the XIV Olympiad
29 July - 14 August 1948
Two Shillings Sixpence for a Media Guide
The 1948 Olympic Games were pleasant, low key Games compared to the over-organised event experienced in 1936. They were the first to be shown on national television, although very few people in Great Britain actually owned sets. The Daily Telegraph sold a “Guide to the Olympic Games” for two shillings sixpence and the British Horse Society published an eight-page brochure, “Notes on the equestrian events at the Olympic Games 1948”, which can be considered an early version of a media guide.
The Shadow of Scandal
After the Games, the equestrian events were overshadowed by the most bizarre incident. A sergeant in the Swedish Army, Gehnäll Persson, was with his horse Knaust a top contender for the Swedish Dressage team, except for the fact that non-commissioned officers were not allowed to compete in the Olympics. Thus Sgt Persson was, on 20 July 1948 (barely three weeks before the Olympic Grand Prix de Dressage) promoted to Lieutenant. A perfectly reasonable decision, after all, people have been promoted for worse reasons. As expected, Sweden won the Dressage gold medal, with Persson proudly standing at the top of the podium.
Then the inexplicable happened. Two and half weeks after this memorable event, Persson was demoted. In retrospect it seems unbelievable that the Swedish military authorities could believe that such a drastic decision would not become known internationally. When it was discovered, the FEI, with the approval of the IOC, disqualified Persson on 27 April 1949. This meant that Sweden was also disqualified from the team event and lost its gold medal.
This shameful incident was a clear demonstration that times had changed. Non-commissioned officers were no more professionals than professional officers. The FEI acted quickly and as from 1952, allowed non-commissioned officers in the Olympics.
The equestrian programme of 1948 lasted six days. The first five days were held in the command central stadium of the military complex at Aldershot, approximately 60km from London. Endurance day was on the army grounds of Aldershot, at a site called Tweseldown where Queen Victoria had her racecourse; it still holds competitions for British Eventing. The Jumping was held in the Olympic stadium, the Empire Stadium at Wembley.
Games Facts & Figures
- 59 nations
- 4,104 athletes (390 women; 3,714 men)
- 17 sports