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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 January, 2004, 14:24 GMT
Winner against all odds
By Alex Trickett

Fanny Blankers-Koen

Fanny Blankers-Koen defied the critics in characteristic, gritty style when she ran into the record books at the 1948 Olympics.

The Dutch sprinter was an unlikely heroine of the London Games, lining up alongside younger athletes as a 30-year-old mother of two.

Some dismissed her chances on the grounds of age.

Others knocked Blankers-Koen for neglecting her children and her household duties.

But all detractors were proved wrong on the Wembley track, where she became the only female athlete to win four gold medals at a single Olympics and set a glowing example for women around the world.

Blankers-Koen's talent and determination prevailed in the 100 metres, 200m, 80m hurdles and 4x100m relay.

And, after eight gruelling days, she left London with the moniker "Flying Housewife" forever linked to her name.

There had been little to hint at Blankers-Koen's epic athletic future in her early life.

BLANKERS-KOEN (1918-2004)
1936: Made Dutch 4x100m team at Berlin Olympics
1938: Wins European bronze at 100m
1946: Takes European gold in 80m hurdles, weeks after giving birth
1948: Wins four gold medals at London Olympics
1952: Appears at her third Olympics

Born Francina Koen in Baarn on 26 April, 1918, she adopted swimming as her first sport, before switching to the track relatively late, at 17.

By 1936, she had been encouraged to enter the 1936 Olympic trials by her coach and soon-to-be husband Jan Blankers.

And she went from strength to strength, qualifying for the 4x100m relay squad, which finished fifth at the Berlin Games.

Blankers-Koen's first taste of individual success came two years later at the European Championships, where she won a bronze at 100m.

But she was robbed of further medals when the 1940 and 1944 Olympics were cancelled due to the Second World War.

Many thought her chance had passed.

You mean it is me who has won - I must say I am surprised
Blanker-Koen on her "athlete of the century" award

But in 1946, just six weeks after giving birth to her first child, the Dutchwoman hinted at her resilience and versatility by striking European gold in the 80m hurdles.

Blankers-Koen was the holder of six world records going into the London Games.

And - incredibly - she might well have left it with six golds to her name had not a schedule clash deprived her of the chance to compete in the long and high jumps.

As it was, she had to settle for four titles and the modest gift of a bicycle when she returned home to Holland.

Blankers-Koen set 20 world records during her glittering career.

But she insisted that her most treasured memory was meeting Jesse Owens.

Her biggest accolade, however, came long after she had hung up her running spikes.

Blankers-Koen beat off all competition to be crowned female athlete of the 20th century by the International Association of Athletics Federations.

Not bad going for a "flying housewife".


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BBC Sport's John Rawling
"She rewrote perceptions of women's role in sport"



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