30 Apr 2012

1948 Olympics ‘no big deal’ says veteran

One vest, one pair of shorts, a travel pass and some photos – 1948 Olympic basketball player Lionel Price shows Channel 4 News his games memorabilia and says playing in those days “was no big deal”.

In his own words it was “pure luck” that Lionel Price started playing basketball.

The 85-year old went to school at the Regent Street Polytechnic which, at the time, was home to one of the few basketball courts in London.

He started playing as a teenager and by the time the 1948 games came around, he had been selected to represent Great Britain.

“It was exciting and novel… but it was no big deal,” Lionel told Channel 4 News.

Recalling the opening ceremony, he added: “As we walked into Wembley Stadium on that fateful day in 1948, there was a big sign board which said ‘It’s not the winning and losing, it’s the taking part’ – the words of Baron de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics.

“These days it’s all about the winning and losing and nothing about the taking part, I think it’s a sad thing that the amateur spirit, to a great degree, has been lost.

“We won one game and lost four or five but it didn’t matter – we were there and no one can take that away from us.”

Read more: London Olympics 2012 special report
1948 Olympic opening ceremony (Getty)

The austerity Games

London 2012 may be happening during times of austerity, but the 1948 games were dubbed the “austerity games”.

The legacy of World War II loomed large and money was tight. The Olympic village was based at RAF Uxbridge and the venues had already been built.

Sixty four years on, Lionel pulls a small, neat pile of clothing from the top shelf of his cupboard.

“We were given a singlet, one singlet. Don’t think I’d get into it now,” he joked

“We played about five games so we had to wash it on a regular basis – or we’d have had to stand down-wind!”

Included in his pile of clothing is one pair of shorts, a tracksuit top and an American team hat which Lionel swapped for his British berry at the closing ceremony.”

He was also given a tie and a pair of tracksuit bottoms, which he has since given away.

But Lionel values the memories more than the memorabilia: “I played for England, I played for my country in 1948, 64 years ago. Doesn’t matter what the results of the games were. We don’t care about that. We were there. We’ve done it and I’ve got the singlet to prove it!”