For the first time, a team from the Soviet Union participated in the Olympics. The first gold medal for the USSR was won by Nina Romashkova in the women's discus throwing event. The Soviet women's gymnastics team won the first of its eight consecutive gold medals.
Israel made its Olympic debut. The Jewish state had been unable to participate in the 1948 Games because of its War of Independence. A previous Palestine Mandate team had boycotted the 1936 Games in protest of the Nazi regime.
The newly established People's Republic of China (PRC) participated in the Olympics for the first time, although only one swimmer (Wu Chuanyu) of its 40-member delegation arrived in time to take part in the official competition. The PRC would not return to the Summer Olympics until Los Angeles 1984.
The Republic of China (Taiwan) withdrew from the Games on July 20, in protest of the IOC decision to allow athletes from the People's Republic of China to compete.
To the enjoyment of the Finnish crowd, the Olympic Flame was lit by two Finnish heroes, runnersPaavo Nurmi and Hannes Kolehmainen. Nurmi first lit the cauldron inside the stadium, and later the flame was relayed to the stadium tower where Kolehmainen lit it. Only the flame in the tower was burning throughout the Olympics.
Hungary, a country of 9 million inhabitants, won 42 medals at these games, coming in third place behind the much more populous United States and Soviet Union.
Germany and Japan were invited after being barred in 1948. Following the post-war occupation and partition, three German states had been established. Teams from the Federal Republic of Germany and the Saarland (which joined the FRG after 1955) participated; the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was absent. Though they won 24 medals, the fifth-highest total at the Games, German competitors failed to win a gold medal for the only time.
Rules in equestrianism now allowed non-military officers to compete, including women. Lis Hartel of Denmark became the first woman in the sport to win a medal.
Japan and Germany were both reinstated and permitted to send athletes after being banned for 1948 for their instigation of World War II. Due to the division of Germany, German athletes from Saar entered a separate team for the only time. Only West Germany would provide athletes for the actual Germany team, since East Germany refused to participate in a joint German team.