Fanny Blankers-Koen ran away with the 1948 Summer Olympics — literally.
Blankers-Koen, a 30-year-old Dutch housewife and mother of two, became the first Dutch athlete to win an Olympic title as she took home four gold medals at the London Games. Her performance at the Olympics — the most successful of any athlete at that year’s Games — earned Blankers-Koen the nickname “the Flying Housewife.”
To honor her performance and contribution to raising the profile of women’s athletics, which occurred at a time when women’s athletics was disregarded by many, Google dedicated its Doodle Thursday to Blankers-Koen on what would have been her 100th birthday.
Born near Baarn, the Netherlands, on April 26, 1918, Blankers-Koen set a national record for the women’s 800-meter run at the age of 17. A year later, she finished out of the medals for the 4×100-metre relay and high jump at the Berlin Olympics.
Her hopes to medal during the 1940 Olympics were dashed when the Helsinki Games were canceled on May 2, 1940, due to World War II — a week before German troops invaded the Netherlands. The 1944 Olympics, slated for London, were also canceled due to the ongoing war.
When the 1948 Games rolled around, she was the oldest woman in Olympic track. She trained only two hours a day, twice a week, pedaling to practice with her two children in a bicycle basket behind her.
Her decision to compete in the 1948 Olympics upset many, who criticized her decision to continue racing when they said she should have been staying at home with her children.
She proved them wrong by winning four of the nine track and field events for women, including the 100 meters in 11.9 seconds. Then the 80-meter hurdles in 11.2 seconds, setting an Olympic record.
After almost quitting before the 200 meters semifinal due to the pressure, Blankers-Koen went on to win the final by 7 yards, the widest margin ever in an Olympics. She then competed in the 4×100-meter relay, winning the gold medal in a photo finish after taking the anchor leg baton while her team was in fourth place.
In all, she won five European titles and 58 Dutch championships, and set or tied 12 world records. She retired from athletic competition in 1955 and was named “Female Athlete of the Century” by the International Association of Athletics Federations.
Blankers-Koen died in 2004 at the age of 85.
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