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Helsinki 1952

The Paavo Nurmi poster had already been prepared for the 1940 Olympic Games, which were cancelled due to the Second World War. Twelve years later, only the dates were changed and the new Finnish national borders drawn in.

ANECDOTE

The unique treble of the Czech locomotive

The 100 m final was exciting, but the winner Lindy Remigino bore no comparison with his predecessors Harrison Dillard (who won the 110 m hurdles in Helsinki), Jesse Owens and Eddie Tolan, who remained the joint Olympic record-holders.

The star of the Games in the home of long distance running, as Finland was at the time, was Emil Zatopek (1922 – 2000). Watched by his illustrious predecessors Paavo Nurmi and Hannes Kohlemainen, he became the first and, so far, only man to win the 5,000 m, 10,000 m and marathon. Kohlemainen had also won gold medals in all three events, but at two separate editions of the Games.

For the “Czech locomotive”, who often ran with his tongue sticking out, his head rolling and his arms moving in a rather unorthodox fashion, manual timekeeping was not a problem. In the first marathon he had ever run, he finished 2 minutes 31.8 seconds ahead of the runner-up. Afterwards, he commented, “I was not worried about the distance, only about how I should pace myself.” A few weeks earlier, Zatopek had covered more than 20 km in order to win a one-hour run. He finished 15.8 seconds ahead of Frenchman Alain Mimoun over 10,000 m and it was only in the 5,000 m that the gap was close (0.8 seconds ahead of Mimoun). Four runners had been virtually level-pegging on the back straight of the final lap.

Zatopek attacked for the first time on the final bend and then once again, when only Mimoun remained in his slipstream. “I was experienced enough to know that the other three had already overexerted themselves,” he said. Nevertheless, Zatopek had been stretched to such an extent that he was still recovering in the changing rooms when his wife Dana won the gold medal in the javelin competition. “What, you as well?” he exclaimed when he returned to the stadium. Dana and Emil had been born on the same day and they both won gold medals within an hour of each other in Helsinki. After competing in three Olympic Games, in which he won four gold medals, and setting 18 world records, Zatopek retired in 1957. “In my day, sport was still played at a low temperature,” he said modestly as he looked back at his great career. “I was not very talented.”

As a co-signatory of the “Manifesto of 2,000 Words” in the suppressed Prague Spring, Major Zatopek was stripped of his rank in 1968 and forced to spend six years working as a geologist in a uranium mine. He later became an archivist and did not re-enlist in the army until 1990.

TECHNOLOGY

The era of quartz and electronics begins

Another quantum leap took place just in time for the Olympic Games in Helsinki: the development of an autonomous, lighterweight version of quartz, which had already been used for decades in clocks. Electronic timekeeping was therefore born. The batterypowered OMEGA Time Recorder, which operated at a frequency of 10 kHz, weighed 17 kg and was not dependent on unreliable electricity supply systems. It was accurate to the nearest 5/100ths of a second over a 24-hour period. The timing device was equipped with a high-speed printer which could print out times to the nearest 1/100th of a second. That is why they do not appear on the photofinish documents which were published at the time – they had to be kept secret.

Like the “Magic Eye” in London, the OMEGA Time Recorder was extremely helpful in Helsinki in dealing with controversial decisions. For example, in the 100 m final, both Lindy Remigino (USA) and Herbert McKenley (JAM) were awarded exactly the same electronically measured time of 10.79 seconds. In the official result list, the first four runners were all given the time of 10.4 seconds. This had never happened before and has never been repeated. One small detail: Olympic champion Remigino had only qualified for the Olympic Games after a photo finish, taking third place in the US qualifying competition. For OMEGA, the Games ended with a special award: delegation manager Charles Sickert was presented with the IOC Cross of Merit for “outstanding service to the world of sport”.


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