The founder of the modern Olympic Games, Pierre de Coubertin, was inspired in the 1880s by Thomas Arnold at Rugby School and the Much Wenlock Games in Shropshire, founded by Dr William Penny Brookes. What he saw helped inform his vision for the both the spirit and running of the Olympic Games.
London itself has a great Olympic heritage, having hosted the Games twice before: in 1908 and 1948. The 1908 Olympic Games were originally awarded to Rome, but the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 1906 meant another Host City was needed.
The London 1908 Games were officially opened on 27 April 1908 by HRH King Edward VII and stretched out over a three-month period. A total of 22 nations sent 2,008 athletes – 1,971 men and 37 women – who competed across 110 events.
The majority of the sports at London 1908 remain central to the Games today and will feature at London 2012. However, there were also those – including motor boating and tug of war – which have long since ceased to feature on the Olympic programme. When the Games closed on 31 October 1908, they were widely declared a huge success.
Great Britain topped the medal table with a total of 145 medals. The United States were second with 47, while third-placed Sweden claimed 25.
In 1948, London again stepped in at the last minute to host the first Games after World War II. Despite a shortage of time, funds and resources, the city rose to the challenge.
The Opening Ceremony took place at Wembley Stadium on 29 July 1948, with HRH King George VI officially opening the Games. 136 events were contested by 4,104 athletes from 59 nations. At the end of the Games, the USA topped the medal table, taking away a total of 84 medals. They were followed by Sweden with 44, and France with 29.
The 1948 Games was the first to be shown on home television, although few people actually owned television sets at the time.