Olympic Winner
Image courtesy of Olympic.org

Fanny Blankers-Koen (1918-2004): Olympic Track & Field Athlete

Dutch track and field athlete Fanny Blankers-Koen was born in Lage Vuursche, Netherlands, in 1918. Around the age of 16, Blankers-Koen began competing as an athlete, and in 1935 she competed in the Berlin Olympics. She exuded immense talent, but not enough to win her a medal that year. It wasn’t until 13 years later — when Fanny was 30 years old, married, and a mother of two — that she became a superstar athlete at the 1948 London Olympics. Several commentators of the time criticized Fanny for stepping outside of her home and “neglecting” her domestic and motherly duties by competing that year, and they were also very doubtful of her ability to compete due to her age.

But like any badass woman, Fanny Blankers-Koen was a focused individual who only needed a belief in herself and in her team in order to compete successfully. Despite the criticism and the words of doubt floating around Fanny’s name and her Olympic career, the 1948 London Olympics essentially became Fanny’s stage. Her performance garnered her four gold medals in the 100 meter sprint, 200 meter sprint, 80 meter hurdles, and 4 x 100 meter relay. Subsequently, she became the first woman to win four gold medals in one Olympic Games. I don’t know about you, but if I was Fanny, I would have walked around the Olympic stadium with fists in the air, yelling, “Suck it!” while showing off the four pretty and shiny medals around my neck. But I guess we all can’t be classy victors now, can we?

Winning, though, was not without its faults and stumbles. Despite the fact that we now know Fanny as an impressive and talented marker of athletic history, Fanny was still a human competing against immense odds and negativity. It is reported that even after winning her first two gold medals, she felt that she couldn’t compete in her next event, the 200m, because of the repulsive negativity that commentators had concerning her participation. However, even though Fanny considered withdrawing from the 200m, she overcame the pressure, the negative comments, and the fear and went on to win the 200m by a 0.7 second margin — the highest margin in Olympic 200m history. Fanny Blankers-Koen left London as a four gold-medalist winner and also received the nickname “The Flying Housewife” from the press who reported on her exceptional performance at the London Olympics.

After her victory in London, Fanny kept training and even competed in the Helsinki Olympics at age 34. It was in 1999, though, that Fanny was really made an official staple in the athletic community worldwide. She was honored with the title “Top Female Athlete of the 20th Century” by the International Amateur Athletic Federation, and she humbly accepted her title with absolute surprise.

This is only a short testament of Fanny Blanker-Koen’s amazing contribution to athletic history as well as women’s history. She stepped out into a public arena despite the controversial and negative feedback concerning both her personal and professional life. Her bravery shows us a very telling tale about the ability to believe in yourself despite hurtful and unwarranted assumptions. It’s amazing to see a woman of Fanny’s caliber show a world — which is intent on belittling female athletic ability — that one does not need the validation of others in order to do something brilliant. All that really matters is the capability of that individual and the important belief that one can be great just by knowing that they have every capacity to be great.

So, three cheers to Fanny Blankers-Koen! Do me a favor and watch her amazing performance at the 1948 London Olympics. I promise you will not regret it!


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