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The Olympics are meant to bring countries together, but in 1948, the world was still too splintered from World War II to make the Games complete. The host city was London, and with numerous bombed-out buildings still in evidence, hard feelings also remained.
For that reason, Great Britain decided to ban two of its wartime enemies, Japan and Germany, from the competitions. Germany quietly accepted the ban, but Japan and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) pleaded for reconsideration.
"I am surprised that you take this attitude three years after the war has ended," IOC President Johannes Sigfrid Edstrom said in a letter to the British. "We men of sport ought to show the way for the diplomats." But what became known as the "austerity Olympics" went on without the Japanese and Germans. Italy, which had signed an armistice with the Allies in 1943, did compete.
In some ways, they didn't miss a lot. No Olympic Village was built, so the athletes were forced to reside in leftover military camps. They even had to bring their own towels. The world welcomed back Japan and Germany for the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, Finland.
Germany and Japan at the Olympics:
- Japan first competed in the Olympics in 1912, sending two athletes to the Games. Germany participated in the first modern Games in 1896, but has competed under five different designations.
- German kayaker Birgit Fischer-Schmidt, often named among the greatest Olympians in history, earned eight gold medals before retiring in 2005.
- Japanese gymnast Sawao Kato, who won eight Olympic gold medals, still owns the record for most men's gymnastic titles at the Games.