Profile In 1999, Fanny Blankers-Koen was voted Female Athlete of the Century, thanks largely to her four gold medals at the 1948 London Olympic Games.
Born Francina Elsje Koen on 26 April 1918 in Lage Vuursche in the Netherlands, Fanny Blankers-Koen was drawn to many sports as a child. It was suggested she take up athletics, since Holland had such a rich tradition in swimming in the 1930s that a career in athletics would give her a better chance of making it to the Olympic Games. She made her Olympic debut in 1936, just one year after she had entered her first athletics event. In the Berlin Olympics, she took part in the High Jump and the 4x100m Relay and finished sixth and fifth respectively.
Blankers-Koen had looked a hot prospect, but World War II intervened, curtailing most international competitions including two Olympic Games, in 1940 and 1944. During the war, she gave birth twice, which gave the outside world the impression that she had given up athletics. Nothing could be further from the truth. Fanny and her trainer- husband (Jan Blankers) would draw up training regimes when most of the world was not in the least bit interested in sport. She arrived at the 1948 London Olympics as a 30-year-old and a mother of two, which made her an odd one out.
When she had won Holland its first Olympic gold medal by triumphing in the 80m Hurdles, she was hampered by homesickness but her husband convinced her to persist. She went on to win the 100m, 200m and 4x100m Relay to return to her native Netherlands a hero. There she received a bicycle from her neighbours, “to go through life at a slower pace”. She competed at the 1952 Helsinki Games but by now she was past her prime. She died in 2004, at the age of 85.