The first woman to win four track and field gold medals at one Olympic games – and still the only woman to do so – wasn’t your typical track star. At the time, she was thought to be a bit past her prime and not expected to do much.
Dutch sprinter Fanny Blankers-Koen, who would have turned 100 years old today, was the undebatable star, however, at the 1948 London Olympics, 70 years ago. She is honored today with Google’s Doodle.
Blankers-Koen came into those Olympics as a 30-year-old housewife – and, most impressively, she was in the early stages of pregnancy at the time, with her third child.
But she emerged as the star of the track and field competition, winning the 100 meters, 200 meters, and 80 meters hurdles and also winning a gold in the 4×100 meters relay.
Her win in the 200 was particularly impressive – she dominated the field with a record-setting margin of victory in a relatively short race.
She could have won more, likely – she was the world record holder at the time in the long jump and the high jump – but women were limited in how many events they could compete in.
Nicknamed the Fying Dutchwoman, Blankers-Koen wasn’t an unknown – she had been a rising track star, but that had been years earlier. Dutch athletics officials, and many in the general public in Holland, assumed she was too old, and had just been unlucky to lose her prime running years to World War II.
It was the second Olympics for Blankers-Koen, but she was an unknown kid at the first. She competed in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin as an 18-year-old, and finished fifth in the high jump. (She did manage to get an autograph at those games from her hero, American sprinter Jesse Owens).
But she lost most of her prime competing years, in Olympics terms, to World War II. The Olympics were cancelled because of the war in 1940 and 1944, which would have been the two years when Blankers-Koen would have been of prime competing age – 22 and 26.
She was given a parade in Amsterdam after the ’48 Games.
“All I’ve done is run fast,” she said. “I don’t see why people should make much fuss about that.”
She tried to compete again at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki but had to pull out because of injuries.
Blankers-Koen died in 2004 in Holland.