Fanny Blankers-Koen – The Flying Dutch Housewife

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Fanny Blankers-Koen – The Flying Housewife


Fanny Blankers-Koen, also know as the “Flying Housewife” or the “Flying Dutchmam”, is the best Female athlete of the 20th century. She is an example of total devotion and shattered the myths that females and mothers especially cannot make performance in sport because of their familial duties. Fanny Blankers-Koen is the female counter part of Jesse Owens and Carl Lewis, being the first and only female athlete ever to win 4 gold medals in the same edition of Summer Olympics. The legendary Dutch athlete set 16 world records is one of the members of IAAF’s Hall of Fame.

She was born Francina Elsje Koen in Baarn, province of Utrech, in 1918. The first queen of track & field was the daughter of Arnold Koen, a government inspector in Amsterdam who competed in his youth in the discus and shot events. Her father encouraged young Fanny to run, swim, play tennis and skate. Francina excelled in running, jumping and swimming during her childhood. The future Flying Housewife joined an athletic club at the age of six and started to become very good in running and swimming. Later on, at the age of 14, one of her swimming coaches recommended her to pursue a career in track & field because Netherlands had several better swimmers. Young Fanny then joined the Amsterdam Dames’ Athletic Club in 1935 at the age of 16, showing total devotion to athletics by ciclying 30 kms back and forth to go to Amsterdam in order to train. What is more interesting is the fact that Fanny Blankers-Koen had to run indoors in that period, because the club did not have an outdoors track.

Fanny Blankers-Koen’s first competition was in 1935, at the age of 17. She participated in a 200 m dash, but she did not place very well. This first failure did not disheart the amazing Flying Dutchmam and after 4 weeks she managed to win the Dutch national championship in 800-meters and Fanny set a new a national record for the 800 m. During this amazing performance, Fanny was noticed by her future husband, Jan Blankers, a former national triple-jump champion and the track coach of Dutch Olympic team. Fanny Blankers-Koen participated in her first Olympics in 1936, in Berlin, at the age of 18. The amazing Dutch athlete did not shine in Berlin Olympics, she finished sixth in the long jump and fifth in the 4×100 m relay team.

This Olympic failure made her stronger and strengthened her will to win a gold medal in the next Olympics. As a result, Fanny Blankers-Koen set her first world record in 1937 in 100 yards dash (11.0 sec). The Dutch athlete also won her first silverware in 1937, finishing third both in 100 m and 200 m sprint in European Championships in Vienna. Fanny Blankers-Koen married her coach, Jan Blankers who was 15 years her senior, in 1940. One year later they had their first child, Jan Junior. Because of the outbreak of WWII, Amazing Fanny was unable to participate in international competitions, but she managed to set six world records (high jump – 1.71 metres /5.61 feet; long jump – 6.25 metres 20.51 feet; 80m hurdles – 11.0 sec; 100 yard dash; 4×110 yard relay and 4x200m relay) during local meetings between 1942 and 1944. Fanny Blankers-Koen was constantly criticized during this period because she was competing after the birth of her son and everybody was demanding her to assume her responsibilities as housewife. The Flying Dutchmam gave birth to her daughter Fanneke, in 1945 and she did not train for a while because of the winter hunger period.

Nevertheless, Fanny Blankers-Koen showed she is a top athlete seven months later during 1946 Oslo European Championships, where Fanny won the gold medial in 80 m hurdles and 4×100 m team relay and finished fourth in high jump. The Flying Dutch Housewife set a new world record in 100 m sprint, 11.5 second in 1948.

1948 London Olympics will always be remembered because of Fanny Blankers-Koen, who became the first and only female athlete ever to win 4 gold medals. Aged 30 and world record holder in 100 meter race, 80m hurdles, high jump, and long jump, Fanny Blankers-Koen entered in the competition despite being under constant criticism for not taking care of her kids. Even though she was specialized in multiple events, the Olympics regulation forced her to participate in only 3 individual events: 80 m hurdles, 100 m  and 200 m sprint. Fanny Blankers-Koen won all her 12 races – she had to run heats in all events – in 9 days. Amazing Fanny won with ease the semi-finals for 100 m dash and the Dutch athlete was considering the fact that her opponents were running slower in order be more fit for the final. It was a wrong belief because Fanny smashed the opposition and won the 100m gold medal by three yards on a wet track in 11.9 seconds. Her dream of winning an Olympic gold became true and she wanted to withdraw from the rest of the events, but her husband convinced her not to do so.  Next day Fanny Blankers-Koen participated in the heats for hurdles, which she won with ease. However, the Flying Dutchmam secured a narrow win in the 80 m hurdles final ((11.2 second, a tie with Britain’s Maureen Gardner) after she overcame a slow start and she bumped on the fifth hurdle. The 30 years old Dutch athlete wanted to withdraw again the next day because she missed her kids, but Jan Blankers knew how to convince her to continue competing and how to motivate her in becoming a legend.  This tension appeared before the semifinal for 200 m dash. After the conversation with her husband, Blankers-Koen won the 200m semifinal in 24.3 seconds and set a new Olympic record. Despite muddy conditions, Fanny Blankers-Koen won the 200 m final (24.4 seconds) by a 0.7 seconds margin, which still remains the largest margin of victory in an Olympics 200m final. The amazing Dutch athlete won her 4th gold medal in 5 days in the 4×100 m team relay. She was the anchor and she took the baton in the fourth position but managed to take to the lead a few meters before the finish line.

Two days later after winning the fourth Olympic gold she went back to Amsterdam, to take care of her children. She continued in dominating the track & field meetings and she won another 3 gold medals in the 1950 Brussels European Championships (100 m, 200 m dash and 80 m hurdles). She was very close to secure a fourth gold in the 4×100 m relay, but she the Netherlands team finished second, behind Great Britain. Fanny Blankers-Koen set her last world record in 1951, after the modification of the pentathlon to consist of shot put, high jump, 200 m sprint, 80-metre hurdles and long jump. The Dutch legend was set the first modern world record for pentathlon with 4,692 points. Unfortunately, Fanny Blankers-Koen, aged 34, failed to win another medal in her last Olympics in 1952. 1952 Helsinki Olympics were her last major international participation. Amazing Fanny managed to win her last Dutch national title in 1955 in the shot put. Then, she decided to retire in the same year.

Fanny Blankers-Koen is a legend of athletics, setting 16 world records and no woman in history managed so many national titles (58 national gold medals). Her amazing 4 gold medals in the Summer Olympics put her beside Jesse Owens and Carl Lewis, being the only woman ever to manage such a performance. Fanny was an example that female athletes can be very competitive, despite having children at home. Even though there is no statistics about mothers winning Olympic medals, it is believed that the Flying Housewife is the only woman to win a gold medal and be part of an Olympic relay team after having more than one child in track & field history. What is more impressive about her performance is her statement about Marion Jones: “She trains twice a day. We only trained twice a week.”

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