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01 Aug 1952
Helsinki 1952

Wu flies the flag for Olympic debutants China in the pool

Helsinki 1952 marked the first appearance of the People’s Republic of China on the Olympic stage, and it took place in dramatic fashion.

In the aftermath of the Chinese Civil War, the Chinese government finally decided to send a delegation of athletes just one day before the Games were due to start. Football and basketball squads were dispatched, but arrived in Finland too late to take part. In fact, only one member of the delegation actually arrived in time to compete – the 23-year-old swimmer Wu Chuanyu.

Wu had actually competed in 1948, as part of a team that was then called the Republic of China. The Republic had competed on several previous occasions, but had now retreated to Taiwan and would now compete under that name. Wu now represented a new nation: the People's Republic.

In London, he had come fifth in his heat in the 100m freestyle, but four years on switched to backstroke. Just as he had been in London, he was drawn in the fifth heat and, once again, he came home in fifth place, some 3.5 seconds behind the winner, Great Britain's John Brockway.

It meant that the reborn China's first Olympics were over after precisely one minute 12.3 seconds of competition. It was to be another 28 years before athletes from the People's Republic would again appear in the Olympic arena, returning after lengthy political wrangling to compete at Los Angeles 1984.

Wu himself went on to win the backstroke title at the World Festival of Youth and Students in Romania the following year. It was the first time China's flag had been raised in victory at any international sporting event. Sadly, he died in a plane crash in 1954.

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