A shining Olympic example
The 15th Olympic Games were hosted by an instantly recognizable sports nation, and a flurry of excitement surrounded Finland and its capital, Helsinki, as it welcomed nearly 5,000 athletes from 69 countries. The Helsinki Games generally were held in high esteem and competition was of a high quality.
The return of the Russians -- who were absent since the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 -- proved a diplomatic and sporting success for the IOC. Also making his return to the Olympic fold was 56-year-old Finnish legend Paavo Nurmi, who had been banned for 20 years because he had been accused of being a pro runner. He carried the Olympic flame and passed it to fellow Finn runner Hannes Kolehmainen, who lit the Olympic bowl.
Meanwhile, Swedish IOC president Sigfrid Edstrom was replaced at the end of the Games by a more staunch supporter of amateur athletes, American Avery Brundage.
The United States dominated the track and field and swimming events, and also began their epic duel with the Soviets. Yet a true star emerged in Czechoslovakia's Emil Zatopek, who was the hero of the 5,000 meters, 10,000 meters and marathon.
A true sporting affair
Even though the issues of the Cold War were apparent, for the most part, sports remained on top of the agenda. The diplomatic Finns set up home for the Soviet Union and its satellite countries in an Olympic village a little farther away from their Western rivals. Ukraine and Belarus competed under the Soviet flag, even though the United Nations considered them independent nations.
The Americans won 76 medals (40 gold, 19 silver and 17 bronze), coming in first overall. The Soviet Union finished in second place with a total of 71 medals (22 gold, 30 silver and 19 bronze).
Copyright 2012 Agence France-Presse.