Fanny Blankers-Koen: Why Google honours her

The athlete would have been 100 years old on April 26.

Fanny Blankers-Koen
Fanny Blankers-Koen was the first woman to win four medals in a single Olympics [File: Keystone/Getty Images]

Described as “the flying Housewife” and hailed as one of the most successful athletes of her time, Fanny Blankers-Koen would have been 100 years old on April 26.

In the Dutch track-and-field athlete’s honour, Google is changing its doodle in nine countries. 

This is her story:

National record  

  • Francina Elsje Koen was born in Baarn, a small town in the Dutch province of Utrecht in 1918.
  • She had four brothers and was the only daughter of a wealthy father who became government inspector. 

  • She showed an early inclination for sports such as tennis, swimming, fencing and running.
  • Aged 15, she was asked by her trainer to choose a sport. She selected track-and-field, and by the age of 17, she had broken her first national record for the women’s 800 metres. 

World War II 

  • In 1936, at the age of 18, she competed in the Berlin Olympics.

  • Despite her young age, she won sixth place in high jump and was a member of the 4×100-metres team that came fifth. 

  • During World War II, the Netherlands was under Nazi occupation and there was a six-year cessation of international competition.

  • The young athlete married her coach Jan Blankers.

  • The couple had a son, Jantje, and a daughter, Fanneke.

  • Blankers-Koen continued to build up her speed and by the end of 1943, she was a world-record holder at 80 metres hurdles.

Flying housewife 

  • The first major international event for her after the war was the 1946 European Championships held in Oslo, Norway.
  • As the leading athlete in the Netherlands, she held six world records: in the 100-metre dash, 80-metre hurdles, high jump, long jump, 4×100 relay and 4×400 relay. 

  • When she declared her intentions to compete in the 1948 London Games, she received letters from many criticising her for continuing to race despite being a mother and insisting she stay home. She was 30.

  • “I got very many bad letters, people writing that I must stay home with my children and that I should not be allowed to run on a track with – how do you say it? – short trousers,” she told The New York Times in 1982.

People wrote that I must stay home with my children.

Fanny Blankers-Koen

Gold opportunity 

  • Despite the constant criticism, she still participated in the London Games, where she won four golds: 100 metres, 80 metres hurdles, 200 metres, and 4×100 metres,

  • The feat made her the first woman to win four medals in a single Olympics.

  • “One newspaperman wrote that I was too old to run, that I should stay at home and take care of my children. When I got to London, I pointed my finger at him and I said: ‘I show you,'” she said.

  • But during the competition, she was under extreme pressure, and before the semifinals, she told her husband she wanted to quit: “Two Olympics medals is enough”, she was quoted as saying.

  • Years later, her husband told in an interview to The Times: “I had to talk too much. There is only one chance in your life that you can perhaps win three gold medals, and that is the chance that you will take.”

  • In 1955, she retired from the track but kept in shape with running, swimming and tennis, and she continued serving the sport by managing the Netherlands athletics team at the Rome, Tokyo and Mexico City Olympics.

  •  She died in Amsterdam at the age of 85, on January 25, 2004. 

Two Olympics medals is enough.

Fanny Blankers-Koen


  • In 1999, Blankers-Koen’s achievements  were recognised by the International Association of Athletics Federations, and named her as its female “Athlete of the century.” 
Source: Al Jazeera