LONDON, June 21 (Xinhua) -- The Olympic Games in London this summer makes it the only city in the world that has hosted three Olympic Games.
But the Games due to start at the end of July pose the question of how different are these 2012 Games from those held in 1908 and in 1948, and how much of the tangible and intangible legacy of the two earlier Games can be felt today.
Xinhua spoke to two academics -- both experts in their fields -- about the cultural and historic aspects and legacies of the 1908 and 1948 Games and how these reflect on the character of the 2012 Games.
Professor Michael Simpson, head of the English department at Goldsmiths College in London, said the choice of London for the 1908 Games was made at short notice and almost by accident.
The 1908 Games should have gone to Italy, but an eruption of Mount Vesuvius and the chaos caused derailed that plan, he said.
Prof Simpson said that by chance the first two London Games share some similarities in the domestic British background at the times they were held.
In 1908 the domestic political scene was dominated by a reforming Liberal government with a collectivist policy, which saw the establishment of the foundations of what would become Britain's welfare state.
In 1948 a radical reforming Labour government was rapidly and massively extending those collectivist policies, said Prof Simpson.
This contrasted with 2012, which is a period of government budget cutbacks against a backdrop of global financial uncertainty.
The site for the 1908 Olympics shared buildings with a grand Franco-British exhibition, and in 1948 the Games reused the Wembley Stadium, built for a British Empire exhibition on 1924, said Prof Simpson.
Prof Richard Grayson, head of the history department at Goldsmiths, said there were few, if any, buildings specifically built for the 1948 Games -- a contrast with 2012 and with many Games since 1948 when Olympic Parks have been obligatory.
"Things were really done on the cheap in 1948," he said.
He added: "There are similarities between 2012 and 1948 -- this is a period of financial austerity although 1948 was much more dramatic as Britain was still in the aftermath of the Second World War."
The 1948 Games were put together with little planning, and an even smaller budget.
Athletes were accommodated in old military barracks, and many teams slept in tents.
"It's anecdotal, but my mother remembers the members of the American team sleeping in tents in Richmond Park (in West London), which seems absolutely astonishing to us now," said Prof Grayson.
For both those Games there was little commercialism, and that is different now in an era of multinational sport. "The merchandizing is huge now," said Prof Grayson.
There are even reproductions of the merchandizing -- posters and badges -- of the 1948 Games on the market; and Prof Grayson thinks there is more of that available now than in 1948.
The character of the three London Olympics has been different too.
In 1908 it was all about novelty, there had only been three previous modern Olympics at that point, but in 1948 it was about getting back to normal after the war.
"It was an occasion when nations could cooperate and be harmonious after the horrors of war," said Prof Simpson.
There was a general sense in the summer of 1948 of Britain emerging from the shadows of the war. "There was the Olympics, but also with the Ashes tour, the cricket series between England and Australia," said Prof Grayson.
The London Games was a big event, but the Ashes cricket series may have been bigger still in a period when cricket was truly the national game for the British, a circumstance which it is impossible to imagine now, he said.
AUSTERITY AND EMPIRE
The character of the 1948 Games was austerity, but also normalization, internationalism and peace-making, said Prof Grayson.
In 1948 London was a city that, to some extent, was in ruins because of war damage, said Prof Simpson.
"Bombsites were only just cleared, and the city looked battered; it was a city that had been at war and looked like it," he said.
The 1908 Games was more interesting still, said Prof Grayson, because it was a very early indicator of internationalization, something which is now routinely associated with not just the Olympics but other sporting events and with politics and business.
The internationalism of 1908 had a different tone to it, and reflected a soon-to-be-challenged imperial ascendancy.
"In 1908 the Games were being hosted by the metropolis of the British Empire and the close relationship with the Franco-British exhibition would have charged the Games with a imperial aura," said Prof Simpson.
Unsurprisingly the 1948 Games were very much a product of their times, and bore the malign influence of the recently-ended war.
Post-war Britain was still undergoing rationing and it was still a wartime command-and-control economy, said Prof Simpson.
"Britain is so much more a wealthy nation now than in 1948. I don't think it is possible to make comparisons. Then people lived in conditions which we would describe as abject poverty," said Prof Grayson.
LEGACIES FOR LATER OLYMPICS
The 1908 Olympics marked a beginning of standardization of the contents of the Games. Prof Simpson explained that the length of the marathon was decided from that Games on, and the format of medals, and of an Olympic stadium date from those Games.
In addition, national teams had not been a convention before 1908, said Prof Simpson.
The 1908 Games left a more profound legacy, and one which affected later Games.
"Those Games were also the first to have a purpose-built stadium, the White City Stadium, which went on to other uses later. It became a greyhound stadium, a speedway stadium, and was home to the Queen's Park Rangers football team for two seasons," said Prof Grayson.
The stadium was knocked down in the 1980s and is now home to offices for the BBC, and the name remains for the area, and the idea of a purpose-built Games stadium has remained.
The 1948 Games were historic as the first Games to be televised, with the BBC making live broadcasts albeit to only a few thousand television set owners in the London area, but it was a foretaste of the way the media would play an increasingly large role in the Games.
But Britain has a heritage connected to the Olympics which exists separately from the Games hosted by London.
Prof Simpson said that an event called the Cotswold Olympic Games began in 1612, which built on the athleticism of local pastimes in a rural region of southern England and which still runs today.
And in the 1860s a local doctor began the Much Wenlock Games in the English midlands. Both were neither national nor international but purely local, said Prof Simpson.
Special Report: London Olympics 2012