THE countdown to the 2008 Beijing Olympics begins in earnest this month, and with the London Games less than four years away, reporter ELAINE OKYERE takes a look back at when Harrow had a starring role in the last London Games 60 years ago.

WITH the Beijing Olympics starting in July, sport will be on the everyone's minds for the next few months. The Games will no doubt bring back memories for people who were involved in the Olympics when they were a bit closer to home.

Sixty years ago London hosted the 1948 Games, which were the first post-war Games.

The event was shrouded in controversy as the 1940 Games originally had been awarded to Tokyo, and then Helsinki, but were cancelled after the outbreak of the Second World War.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) then chose London to host the Games in 1944, but they were cancelled again.

When the war ended the IOC again selected London and the opening ceremony was held at the British Empire Exhibition Stadium, which is now known as Wembley Stadium, on July 29, 1948.

The current Mayor of Harrow, Councillor John Nickolay was a young boy who played a vital part in the Games.

He was a member of the Harrow Air Scout (Pioneer) section and was selected with other scouts from Middlesex to take part in the opening ceremony.

The 73-year-old said: "I was 13 at the time and it was very exciting. I used to watch racing at Wembley so to walk down the tunnel was exciting.

"Our role was to wait for a signal and let thousands of pigeons out - the birds flew round in a circle and then flew off in different directions, that was one of the highlights of the ceremony."

For Mr Nicoklay, seeing the ceremony was priceless as his family, like many others, did not have a television yet.

He said: "The main question at the time was who was going to light the Olympic flame. We thought it was going to be a famous runner of the time, but it ended up being someone who wasn't well known."

Harrow played a big part in the Games of the XIV Olympiad as the marathon went through the borough. Athletes were seen running the 26 miles in the area from 3pm on August 7, 1948.

The route started at Wembley stadium, went through Kingsbury, Stanmore, Canons Park, Deansbrook, Elstree and Radlett, before looping back to Wembley.

The winner was Delfo Cabrera, of Argentina, and in second place came British athlete Thomas Richards.

Harrow County School for Boys, which later became Gayton High School and then Harrow High School, in Gayton Road, had one of its old boys compete in the Games.

Raymond Barkway attended the school from 1935-1937 and competed in the 100m hurdles.

Alex Bateman, a local historian who keeps archives for the school, said: "Even though he only spent two years at HCS, it's probably fair to say that his interest was gained, or nurtured at Gayton Road. Even at the tender age of 11 his athletic prowess was beginning to show. Results from the 1936 sports day show that he came second in the 100 yards."

Mr Barkway died in an aircraft accident in 1956 while serving in the Royal Navy.

Alf Porter remembers the Games vividly, as at the time he was a 34-year-old voluntary worker for the British Empire Exhibition Stadium ambulance service.

The now 94-year-old said: "I lived in Nelson Road in Stanmore at the time and I was involved with the teams. I saw all the events from the boxing and the swimming. We treated the atheltes if there were any accidents and there was even a small hospital on the grounds. It was terrific, I saw the best athletes in the world."

As London gears up for the 2012 Games, it will be interesting to see whether Harrow has any future sporting stars competing in the Games.

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