Helsinki Finland, 1952

Legacy of the Games

The following article, showing how the Olympic Games of 1940 and 1952 created new sporting venues, housing, transport, tourist accommodation and attractions for the City of Helsinki, is taken from the publication Helsinki 1952 by Mika Wickstrom:

Helsinki had wanted to host the Olympic Games since the successes of distance runner Hannes Kolehmainen at the 1912 Games. Their chance first came with a bid to the IOC in 1932 to host the 1940 Games. The bid and the construction of the venues were in the hands of one person, Erik von Frenckell, deputy mayor in charge of public building for Helsinki, and the chairman of the Stadium Foundation.

Construction works on the Stadium were begun in February 1934 but stalled when the 1940 Games were awarded to Tokyo. The situation changed only two years later, when Japan were forced to renounce the Games as a result of their war with China and the IOC awarded the Games to Helsinki at short notice. Construction subsequently proceeded at a fast pace. The city of Helsinki was undergoing rapid development in the late 1930s and Olympic building served as a new catalyst. The construction of sports facilities was financed by the City of Helsinki but the Finnish State assisted by carrying out infrastructure works and granting a loan of 200 million Finnish marks in government bonds. The Olympic Stadium was inaugurated on June 12 1938, although the stands were not fully completed until late 1939. By 1940 venues were also in place in Helsinki for football, equestrian, rowing and track cycling events. An Olympic village consisting of 32 blocks of flats was also completed. Quarry works for the Swimming Stadium were begun in the spring of 1939 but were abandoned on the outbreak of war. On April 23 1940 the Organising Committee decided to renounce the Games due to the ongoing war in Europe and on May 1 the IOC cancelled the Games.

The war did not end Finland’s Olympic dreams, and in 1947 the City of Helsinki began to prepare its bid to host the 1952 Games. When the bid was submitted and won, Finland was in a post-war depression. Doubts raised by sceptics were partly justified – war-torn buildings were still to be reconstructed, there was a desperate shortage of housing in Helsinki and all buildings constructed for the 1940 Games had to be refurbished. Erik von Frenckell remained optimistic however, and in the late 1940s the Finnish economy began to revive strongly. This meant that building materials became available once more for Olympic preparations.

The main venue of the Olympic Games of 1952 was the Olympic Stadium. The grandstand and the infield had been badly damaged by aerial bombardments in 1944 and wooden stands had also fallen into disrepair. Old wooden stands were dismantled in 1948 and concrete stands were enlarged. A temporary additional wooden stand was erected in 1951, to be removed after the Olympics were over. The aesthetic outline of the Stadium was maintained except for the addition of a wooden coating.

Large-scale repair works were aldo undertaken at the Equestrian Arena at Laakso and at the Football Stadium at Töölö. The Rowing Stadium, built in 1939 at Taivallahti Bay, received a new concrete grandstand in 1950 but on the very eve of the Games the site was found to be too windy. A new rowing venue was therefore built at Meilahti Bay. The partially-completed Swimming Stadium had been used to store fish and vegetables during the war, but works were resumed as soon as war ended and the pools were ready for temporary use by 1947. Up-to-date water purification machinery was installed in 1951.

The Olympic Village built for the 1940 Games had been converted into housing so a new one, the Käpylä Olympic Village, was constructed. This was also converted into housing after the Games.

Hotel accommodation was reserved for special guests and other dignitaries, but even so the hotel situation in the City of Helsinki was poor in the immediate post-war years. Two additional hotels were built to increase the total capacity of the city to 1,400 beds.

Existing traffic arrangements in Helsinki were considered too modest for the needs of the Olympic Games. Land, sea and air connections had to be improved. The Malmi airfield, built for the 1940 Olympic Games, was also inadequate so works on a new airport began in 1950 and Seutula Airport (present-day Helsinki-Vantaa) was opened in May 1952, just in time for the Games. An Olympic Terminal with an adjacent pavilion, was built in the South Harbour of Helsinki to receive Olympic visitors travelling by sea. Most of the sea traffic was between Helsinki and Stockholm but there was also a regular ship service from Copenhagen. Finnish shipping companies ordered three new ships for Olympic traffic but only one, the Aallotar, was commissioned in time. Finnish Railways had been preparing for the Games since 1948. Rolling stock was renewed and the Helsinki railway yard rebuilt by 1952. Motor traffic in Helsinki caused some problems for the Olympic organisers. The number of motor vehicles in circulation was estimated to rise to 35,000 during the Games and Helsinki had only obtained its first set of traffic lights in 1951. Locals were discouraged from using private cars during the events and were also advised to send their children out of the city for the duration of the Games as a safety precaution. The City sent 48 new buses into circulation and extra services were added to the public transport system.

An amusement park had been planned in Helsinki for decades, but the Olympic Games turned this into a reality. The city rented a hill area close to the Olympic Stadium and the Linnanmäki Amusement Park was opened in May 1950. By the time of the Games the park was furnished with a rollercoaster and an observation wheel. Although originally intended to be closed down after the Games, Linnanmäki proved too popular to be abandoned and remains one of Helsinki’s main attractions.