How well do you know Fanny Blankers-Koen? Because of her performance and her success as an athlete, she was instrumental in eliminating the belief that women who are older or married and have children cannot excel in sports of any kind.
Fanny Blankers-Koen was a Dutch professional athlete who broke twelve world records at the age of 33. She is also popularly known as the winner of four Olympic gold medals at the 1948 Summer Olympics in London; not surprisingly, it was also an achievement that made her the captain of the Dutch women’s athletics team. She was subsequently named “Athlete of the Century” by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) in 1999.
Read on to learn more inspiring details about the Champ.
Fanny Blankers-Koen’s Bio
Fanny Blankers-Koen was born on April 26, 1918, as the daughter of Arnold and Helen Koen in Lage Vuursche, Netherlands. She grew up with five siblings, all of whom were male. Even as a child Fanny had natural talents in various sports, including running, swimming, fencing, tennis, gymnastics, and ice skating. Although she was good at all these sports, she had problems deciding which one to focus on.
The answer came later when the coach of a swimming team advised her to concentrate on running, especially with her height of 175 m (1.5 m). Since there were already many top professional athletes in the Netherlands, it would be of greater value for her to focus on a sport that was not already dominated, such as women’s athletics.
Fanny took the advice of the coach and tried to grow and improve in running. As a result, in 1935, when she was 17 years old, she made her first appearance at competitions. Although she did not succeed in making a good impression, she tried until her third competition, when she ran 800 m to set a national record. At the Olympic Games, she easily made it into the Dutch team as a sprinter instead of a middle-distance runner. The only reason for this was that long-distance races (800 m) for female runners were canceled at the 1928 Olympic Games because they were considered too physically demanding for women.
In 1936, Jan Blankers, who participated in the 1928 Olympic Games as a triple jumper, motivated Fanny to take part in the 1936 Olympic trials, by which time Fanny Blankers-Koen was only eighteen years old when she was selected to compete in both the 4 × 100-meter relays and the high jump. On the day of the 1936 Olympic Games, which were held in Berlin, the 4 × 100 m relay and the high jump were held on the same day.
In the relay, she and her team took fifth place, the same position as in the high jump. Since she and her team had done well at the Olympic Games that year, she was encouraged to come back in four years and do even better.
Two years later, in 1938, Fanny Blankers-Koen was to win her very first world record title in the 100-yard race with a record time of 11.0 seconds. She then won bronze in the 100-meter and 200-meter sprint at the European Championship in Vienna. In this game, many believed that she would undoubtedly outdo the other participants at the 1940 Olympic Games in Helsinki.
Who Was She And What Was She Known For
Unfortunately, the 1940 Olympic Games were officially canceled due to the Second World War, which broke out the year after the invasion of the Netherlands. Before the war, she got engaged to her coach Jan Blankers, who was fifteen years older than her and then married him. Interestingly, Jan Blankers used to be one of those who believed that women should not do sports, but after he fell in love with her and saw her potential first hand, his thinking changed.
As a couple, they welcomed their first child and their first son, Jan Junior, in 1942. After the birth of their son, many people, including the Dutch media, assumed that their career would be over because there were not many women who continued a professional sports career after birth. Given that she was over 30 years old at the time, she was also considered too old to participate in further competitions. To the surprise of many, Fanny Blankers-Koen and her husband started training only a few weeks after her birth. At the European Championships in 1946, she then won the 80 m hurdle. On August 7, 1955, she ended her career as an active athlete with a total of 58 Dutch titles and 12 world records.
After she retired from active competition, Fanny Blankers-Koen traveled to various countries to promote athletics competitions for women. She was also appointed leader of the Dutch athletics team from the European Championships in 1958 to the 1968 Summer Olympics and died on January 25, 2004, at the age of 85 in Hoofddorp. Due to her impressive career and history, she was nicknamed “Flying Housewife” and “A Queen with Man Legs”.