Philip BarkerGroup Captain Donald Osborne Finlay was one of "The Few", a Spitfire pilot who fought in the Battle of Britain.

He won the Distinguished Flying Cross.

As a hurdler, he won 110 metres bronze in 1932 at Los Angeles and silver in Berlin four years later and it was said that "only the war prevented him from becoming Olympic champion".

Until the 2012 Opening Ceremony, though, he enjoyed a unique place in British Olympic history as the only man from the United Kingdom to speak the Olympic Oath.

Finlay, an active athlete throughout his time in the RAF, was based at Halton when he was chosen for the 1948 Opening Ceremony in London. Wearing his blazer and uniform-issue Kangol beret, he grasped the British flag as he said the words: "We swear that we will take part in loyal competition, respecting the regulations which govern them and desirous of participating in them for the honour of our countries and the glory of sport."

The idea of an oath had taken shape in the early years of the century. In an unsigned article, believed to have been written by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, a suggestion is made: "There is one ceremony which did exist in the past that can be transposed without modification" it said, "recalling the undertaking to appear without taint and blemish."

After the 1912 Olympics, the great American champion Jim Thorpe was stripped of his medals because he had been paid for taking part in minor league baseball.

Donald Osborne_Finlay_27_JulyGroup Captain Donald Osborne Finlay was the first Briton to speak the Olympic Oath

The New York Times reported that a "solemn vow on the flag is suggested as the best and only means of ensuring that competitors at the next Olympic Games are amateur. This typically French idea has aroused the enthusiastic approval of prominent sporting critics."

The oath was introduced in 1920 for the Antwerp Games and it was pronounced by Belgian fencer Victor Boin. He was a true all-rounder: he won silver in water polo in 1908 in London, added a bronze in 1912 and later won a silver in fencing.

Boin was a journalist by profession and helped out with the 1920 Organising Committee.

"I admired his knowledge and the purity of his ideals," wrote Boin of de Coubertin.

Before World War Two, the oath was typically taken whilst giving an Olympic salute. This was modified after the war because it looked too similar to the Nazi salute.

An undertaking for judges to swear an oath was introduced in the seventies.

Ed Moses_27_JulyEd Moses recites the Olympic Oath at Los Angeles 1984

A further innovation came in 1984. When Ed Moses stepped up to the dais in Los Angeles, the United States flagbearer exchanged the stars and stripes for the Olympic flag. It was this flag that Moses held as he tried to recite the oath from memory. In the moment he faltered. "Had I turned around I would have seen the words displayed on the scoreboard," he said.

The Koreans were inventive in their ceremonies in 1988. Just as they had three Torchbearers, they chose a man and a woman to recite the oath together.

On the formation of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in 1999, a new clause was inserted in the Olympic Oath for the first time: "To refuse doping".

In 2012 there will be a further addition to the ceremony. Coaches were required to swear an oath at the Youth Olympic Games and this element will be introduced for the first time at the London Olympics.

Philip Barker, one of the world's most renowned sports historians, is the author of The History of the Olympic Torch, published by Amberley recently. To order a copy click here.