Olympic Stories

Fanny Blankers Koen - Flying Dutchman

Fanny Blankers Koen - Flying DutchmanBorn in Holland in 1918 Francina Elsje Koen, is viewed by many experts as the greatest all-round track and field female athlete who ever lived. She was held in such high regard by her peers that she was awarded female athlete of the twentieth century in 1999 by the IAAF.

She will always be remembered for her performances at the 1948 London Olympics where she won four Gold medals. She so captured the hearts of the crowds who watched her, and her fans back in Holland, that they gave her the titles of the “Flying Dutchmam " and "The Flying Housewife.”

As a young girl, Fanny excelled at sport. She enjoyed tennis, swimming, skating, and for a long time it looked as if swimming would be her first choice sport. She did however also love athletics, and combined her two loves for a time. Encouraged by her father she decided to concentrate on athletics, a decision which was to be more than justified by her later incredible achievements in the sport.

She first started competing in 1935, running in a pair of borrowed shoes that she had to stuff with cotton wool to make fit. It wasn't long before her outstanding talent came to the fore, and in only her third competitive race, she set a new national record for the 800m.

Inclusion in the Dutch national team followed soon after, although she was chosen not as an 800m runner, but as a sprinter. She was a member of the Dutch team who took part in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Fanny competed in the High jump, finishing a creditable sixth and also took part in the 4x100m relay final, where the Dutch team finished fifth.

Amazingly due to the scheduling of events, both finals were held on the same day. Although she did not win a medal, to perform so well in both events spaced so close together was no mean achievement. Koen was improving as an athlete all the time, and in 1938 she took her first world record in the 100yds sprint, clocking 11.00 seconds dead. She also won Bronze in both the 100m and 200m in that year's European Championships.

The 1940 Olympic games were due to be held in Helsinki, and many people thought she was an obvious choice to win medals. The outbreak of war however meant she never got her chance to compete. During the war years Fanny got married to Jan Blankers who was the coach of the Dutch national women's athletic team.

She gave birth to a son Jan junior in 1941, and many assumed that her career in athletics would be over. In those days some people still frowned upon women competing, and it was practically unheard of for a married woman with children to still participate in the sport. Fanny was no ordinary woman however, and she soon began training again soon after the birth of her son. During the war years Fanny set six world records in various events, including the 80m hurdles, and the high jump.

The first major athletics event to take place after the war was the European Championships held in Oslo in 1946. Despite having given birth earlier in the year, Fanny competed and won the 80m hurdles as well as gold with the 4x100m relay team. She set about training with the London Olympics in mind.

She had broken high jump and long jump world records but decided to compete in the 80m hurdles, 100m and 200m. This had little to do with Fanny's ambition to win medals, but down to the fact that the rules at the time limited women to competing in only three individual events.

Many observers thought she was too old at 30 to be competing in the games, and that her best days were behind her. But Fanny was to prove them all wrong. Her first event was the 100m where she stormed her way to Gold. She then followed up this victory in the 80m hurdles in new women's world record time of 11.2 seconds. She won another gold medal in the 200m and topped it all off by winning gold with the Dutch sprint relay team. She became the darling of the crowd.

This amazing woman held world records in 100yds, 100m, 200m, 80m hurdles, and High Jump at various times in her career. She even held her national record for
Shot-put.

She was the true all-rounder, who deserves her place in Olympic and athletics history.

Career Highlights
  • 1948 London Olympic Games – Gold (4)
  • 1946 European Championships – Gold (2)
  • 1950 European Championships

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