University of Minnesota
Driven to Discover

Kinesiology prof Don Dengel gives students a preview of 2012 Olympics--and a look back in time

Olympics1.jpgWhen the 2012 Olympics open July 27, London will become the first city to host the games for the third time.

London first rolled out the Olympic carpet in 1908, when the British Empire was at the peak of its power. The second time, in 1948, the city was reeling from the devastation of World War II.

"Those two years were certainly unique points in history," says kinesiology professor Donald Dengel, an Olympics history enthusiast who worked for the U.S. Olympic Committee in the 1980s.

In January, Dengel led 25 students to London for a chance to explore the Olympics' impact. During a three-week global seminar, they got to visit not only 2012 venues under construction but also venues from 1948 and even a couple still standing from 1908. The class opened a window on a fascinating mix of sports, facilities, history, and sociology.

"Some things don't change," Dengel says with a chuckle. "1908 had a drug scandal! And a political protest! Our flag bearer refused to dip the flag for British royalty--Ralph Rose, an Irish American, supposedly did not dip the flag, as a protest to England's involvement in Ireland. To this day, we do not dip our flag."

The 1948 games in London were the first since 1936 in Berlin. Post-war Britain was still rationing food, and the XIV Olympics came to be called the Austerity Games.

"Teams were asked to bring their own food, towels, donated equipment," says Dengel. "It was probably, in that sense, what the Olympics were supposed to be--sport to mend fences. But Japan and Germany were not invited to the 1948 Olympic games."

That year, in track and field, a 30-year-old mother of three from the Netherlands was the first woman to win four gold medals. And, to coincide with the Olympics, a physician organized the 1948 International Wheelchair Games; almost all the competitors were veterans.

"Fannie Blankers-Koen set the tone for women's athletics for the next century," says Dengel. "The 'wheelchair games' went on to become the Paralympic Games."

The 2012 Olympics promise to transform London not just for a few weeks but for decades to come. Green building techniques and "legacy" development planning helped to win the city's bid.

Read more in Connect magazine.

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