Surely, the Soviet Union made a big splash in their first Olympic appearance, winning 71 medals, second only to the United States' 76. Surely, they made a political statement by living in an own Olympic village in Otaniemi, reserved for Eastern Bloc athletes. But these were not the Games of political struggles as they came to be from the 1960s to 1980s. Seven years after the end of World War II, these Games in this small, sport loving country in the north of Europe came close to the ideals of the Olympic founding fathers. They were purely about the athletes and the competitions.
And what athletes there were on stage! After retired Finish runner Paavo Nurmi had lit the Olympic flame, Emil Zatopek (picutre: www.sportschau.de) followed in his footsteps, winning the 5,000 meters, 10,000 meters and the marathon. His wife Dana took home the javelin gold at the same hour. Luxemburg's Josy Barthel gained his country's only gold medal ever wenning the 1,500 meters. Australia's Marjorie Jackson ("The Lithgow Flash") won both gold medals in the women's sprint. The gymnasts of the Soviet Union led by Viktor Choukarine were dominating, but Japan (while re-emerging on the Olympic scene) made a big impression - a precursor of a duel for decades to come.
Together with the Japanese, the Germans re-entered the Olympic arena (at least, from the West). They didn't win a gold medal, but it was German law student Barbara Rotraut Pleyer who made headlines during the opening ceremony. In a flowing white dress, the 23 year old ran through the stadium and captured the podium for a spontaneous peace adress. But she could only say the words "Ladies and gentlemen" before she was gently taken out of the arena (picture: www.sportschau.de)
This Finish documentary gives a good impression of the spirit of these Games. Don't care about the commentary, just let the pictures speak for themselves. This film includes some very rare colour footage of the 1952 Games and interview sections with second-time decathlon gold medalist and politcian-to-be, Bob Mathias.
It was a time when amateurism still had a meaning in the Olympic world, and the socialist state sponsored pseudo-amateur was just looming on the horizon as a vague shadow. This can also be seen by this rather unpretentious documentary produced by the U.S Army Signal Corps Pictoral Service as part of the series "The Big Picture":
When FBI officer Horace Ashenfelter defeated KGB agent Vladimir Kazantsev in the 3,000 meters steeplechase, it was nothing more than an interesting footnote in the news - still far away from "war on the track" talk.
A German offical called the Helsinki Games "the Olympics of the poor man and the wealthy hearts". This may sound awkwardly cosy and corny today, but in 1952, most observers will probably have agreed.