LONDON -- When U.S. basketball player Ray Lumpp traveled to London to compete in the 1948 Olympics food was being rationed and bombing rubble remained in a city still recovering from World War II.
Things were so bad athletes were asked to bring their own towels.
Lumpp wondered whether London was going to be ready for the 4,000 athletes who gathered for those games and remembers the jealousy directed at the Americans because they brought their own meat and sugar, precious commodities in a country under rationing.
But the classic British resiliency turned those doubts into inspiration.
"Everything around was all leveled," he said. "You had to take your hat off to the English people. ... (They) could not have been nicer."
England had been awarded the 1944 Games, but the war wiped them out. With the last Olympics being the Nazi-driven 1936 Berlin Games, it fell to Britain in 1948 to restore the vision of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics.
"London did a fantastic job with no money then," said author Janie Hampton, who chronicled the joy and sacrifice of athletes who competed in 1948 in her book, "The Austerity Olympics." ''If London hadn't done such a good job, it would have fizzled out."
Despite a shoestring budget, the games were immensely successful and the memories still resonate for the athletes who were there.
The only thing Ray Myland got out of the 1948 Olympics was cauliflower ears.
He wouldn't have it any other way.
His father had boxed, but Myland had been blinded in one eye by a childhood accident so he took up wrestling -- which seemed safer -- when he was about 17. Finding some success, he kept at it.
He still remembers working at his family's pub until 5:15 p.m., and then racing from St. Albans to catch the train to St. Pancras station in London so he could wrestle. If he missed the l0:20 p.m. train, he'd have to take the train to the end of the Tube line and walk or hitch the 10 miles back home -- or spend the night in the station waiting room until the 4:20 a.m. train back.
The derelicts and drunks would try to do the same, and the police came round at regular intervals to eject those without a ticket.
"People thought I was mad," he said. "It obviously was an effort. (But) I would have rather have gone wrestling than just about anything else."
Born in Brooklyn and raised in Queens, Lumpp had returned to New York City after serving three years in the Air Force to play for New York University. He turned down offers to play professionally so he could remain an amateur and compete in London.
He was married, but couldn't afford to take his wife, Anne, with him. So she went home to Nebraska and stayed with her family for the two months it took him to cross the Atlantic by boat, compete and get back. He returned $800 in debt but with a gold medal in his pocket.
It was well worth it.
"The greatest thrill in my life was when I was selected for the team," he said during a telephone interview from his home on New York's Long Island. "We received our medals at Wembley Stadium, and you are called up on the victory stand. You're not representing Ray. You're representing your country. I was so proud."
Hampton's book depicts the difficulties athletes faced and the satisfaction they gained in competing so soon after World War II, when the challenge of qualifying was followed by a struggle to raise money to train, buy equipment and travel to London.
"The Olympians I spoke to did not boast, but everyone -- whether in Britain, Singapore, Iran or New Zealand -- lit up at the memory of that fortnight," she wrote. "There was something about overcoming the adversity that made it worthwhile."
Myland, who lives in Essex, knows a thing or two about adversity. His competitive life was dotted by breaks. The first was when he had to take over his father's pub. Then getting married set him back a bit, but he just kept coming back to the mat.
"We had no funding -- no partnership of any sort," the 84-year-old said. "If you went to the cinema, you had to pay to go. If you went wrestling, you had to pay."
He also competed in the 1952 Helsinki Games, an Olympic berth that earned him an invitation to a cocktail party with Queen Elizabeth II.
"I doubt she'd remember me, mind," he said. "We had some whisky. It was very nice whisky too."
Myland met his wife, Eileen, a judo instructor, at a physical education show organized by the London police. He had gotten a motorbike by then and they would meet at night after he trained. Married after the 1952 Olympics, they have two daughters and will be celebrating their golden wedding anniversary in 2012.
Eileen nominated Ray to be one of the torchbearers for the 2012 Games. He can't run now of course, but she thinks he can handle the torch from his motorized scooter. Whether he's chosen or not, he'll be back to watch the Greco-Roman wrestling in London, receiving the tickets as part of a program for former British Olympians and their families.
"It was the ultimate," Myland said. "If you are in a sport and you get into the Olympics, that's as high as you can go."
London was the Olympics of Fanny Blankers-Koen, the 32-year-old Dutch mother of two who won four gold medals -- after being dismissed by many as too old to run. Czech distance great Emil Zatopek took gold in the 10,000 meters. Bob Mathias, a 17-year-old farm boy from Tulare, Calif., became the youngest decathlon gold medalist.
It was also the Olympics of Zoe Ann Olsen-Jensen, who was born in La Porte City, Iowa. Her father, a schoolteacher, would flood a dried-out pond every summer, creating a manmade lake where he would teach diving. She watched and learned.
With the outbreak of World War II, her father was stationed in the Pacific and her mother moved the family to Oakland, Calif.
It was like going to a different world.
In La Porte City, there were 20 kids to a classroom. In Oakland, booming with the wartime shipbuilding industry, there were 3,000 students at her high school.
All these years later, she talked about the trauma of fitting in -- having brown shoes when everyone else had white oxfords. Being athletic helped bridge the gap.
"I was just thinking about my diving," said Olsen-Jensen, now of Stuart, Fla. "I had a one-track mind."
Fellow diver Patsy Elsener Homan remembers loving water from the start. Even as a child, when her family went to the beach at Santa Cruz, Calif., she would crawl down to the water's edge and wait for the waves to smack her in the face.
She started leaping off boards and platforms as an 11-year-old and qualified for the Olympics seven years later. Traveling across a continent and then the Atlantic on a cruise ship was an adventure in itself.
"I had never been out of the U.S.," she said. "People didn't travel like that in those days."
But there she was, an 18-year-old from Oakland, walking into Wembley Stadium for the opening ceremony.
"They released all these doves -- all these beautiful doves," she said. "When you look back now, it seems so different."
Homan, who took home a bronze and a silver, tingles when she recalls her moment on the stand.
"You always think how boring the national anthem is," she said. "But when you stand up there on the podium and the flag was raised, they played the national anthem. What a thrilling moment that was.
"It's something I always will be proud of. Once you are an Olympian, you are always an Olympian."
Olsen Jensen, who took silver in the springboard in London, still remembers the thrill of competition and can't help but be jealous of the divers of today and the modern boards that allow them to complete such difficult dives.
"I'm in awe. We didn't have boards like that," she said. "You didn't get much height."
Lumpp went on to play professional basketball, including four years with the New York Knicks, before spending five decades as the athletic director of the New York City Athletic Club. He organized track meets -- including one in New Jersey where British runner Sebastian Coe apologized for running poorly.
Lumpp can't wait to get back to London to tell Coe he did OK in the end. Coe went on to win two Olympic gold medals and now leads the London 2012 organizing committee.
Lumpp is returning to London at the invitation of U.S. basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski. Lumpp gets goose bumps thinking about being able to cheer on his beloved Team USA and thank Britain for making his dreams come true -- both at the same time.
"I'm 88," he said. "I'm just hoping I can make it."