Wimbledon Heritage: Merton's 2012 Olympics contrast with earlier London games
The significance for Merton of the third London Olympics contrasts sharply with the Games staged in 1908 and 1948.
As in 1908, of course, Wimbledon is hosting the Olympic tennis tournaments. But back then, the All England Club was located in Worple Road rather than Wimbledon Park and British players dominated the sport.
Tennis had been a fixture since the revival of the modern Olympic Games in 1896 and the overall British medals tally in 1908 included many won on the tennis courts, indoors as well as outdoors.
There were just nine competing nations.
The men’s outdoors singles gold medallist was M.J.G. Ritchie, who narrowly beat Otto Froitzheim of Germany.
Press coverage reflected the image of Germans before the First World War: "Everything the German did he did easily… the absence of the over-anxiety and impetuosity usually so characteristic of the Continental player stamped him as much above the ordinary… he was not in the least disturbed by the passing trains."
Dorothea Lambert Chambers, a multiple champion in successive Wimbledon fortnights, won the women’s Olympic gold medal in the outdoors singles finals, beating fellow Briton Dora Boothby.
All round sportsman George Hillyard, secretary of the All England Club itself, and R.F. Doherty took the Olympic men’s doubles gold.
By contrast, the London Olympics of 1948 featured no tennis at all so Wimbledon didn’t get a look in.
However there was local interest of a different kind.
Athlete Dorothy Tyler came from Mitcham, trained at the local running track there and had already won fame as high jump silver medalist in the Berlin Olympics of 1936 under her maiden name of Odam.
Having first jumped 5ft at the age of 15, she was only 16 when competing in Berlin. By 1948 she was a highly experienced 28-year-old, married with children.
London’s post-war Olympics provided an exciting opportunity to repeat her former triumph and she duly did so, taking silver once more and becoming the only woman to win Olympic athletics medals both before and after the Second World War.
She would have done even better had the 1936 high jump count-back rules not been changed by 1948.
If the 1948 rulebook had applied in 1936, she would have won the gold in Berlin. On the other hand, if the 1936 rules had applied in 1948, she would have been Britain’s only athletics gold medallist of those Games.
As it was, thanks to the British Empire Games, she could still claim gold medals in Sydney in 1938 and Auckland in 1950 as well as silver yet again in Vancouver in 1954.
She also continued to represent Britain at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952 and Melbourne in 1956.
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