Fanny Blankers-Koen

Olympic Person of the Month June 2022

The story of the “Flying Housewife” refers to the amazing achievements by Francina “Fanny” Elsje Blankers-Koen, a Dutch track and field athlete who broke barriers and the stigma that age and motherhood were factors that caused limitation to being successful in women’s sport. In 1948, the 30-year-old mother of two children won four gold medals at the Summer Olympics in London, while also pregnant with her third child. Her grand performance at these Games earned her a national hero title, and a legacy that would forever be remembered in the world.

Born in 1918, sport was inevitable for Blankers-Koen due to her father’s involvement in athletics. Her debut appearance in the sport was in 1935, aged just at 17 years-old, where she won a Dutch national championship in the 800-meter race. She took place in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin a year later without any medal record.

Aside from her sporting career, she married her coach in 1940. During this time, life for Blankers-Koen shifted gears, as international competitions were put on hold due to World War II and in 1941, she gave birth to her first child. Speculations were that her sporting career was over. In 1946, the war had ended, and Blankers-Koen had given birth to her second child. It was assumed that she would not participate in the 1948 Summer Olympics, but she was prepared to break all odds. Despite the critics of media and event her coach that she was “too old to make the grade”, she began her ground-breaking Gold medal performance at the 100m race in 11.9 seconds. She continued her winning streak with the 80-meter hurdles and the 200-meters race, but almost missed her final race, the 4×100 meter relay after leaving to shop for a raincoat. Arriving just in time, Blankers-Koen took 4th place along with her previous three gold medals.

Apart from Olympics, Blankers-Koen has also won five European titles and fifty-eight Dutch championships and set or tied twelve world records. In 1955, she would finish her career in athletics after winning the national title in shot put which would be her 58th Dutch title at the age of 37.

After retiring, Blankers-Koen’s involvement in sport would continue by serving as the head coach of the Dutch athletics team. Her achievements and persistency were glorified after being declared the “Female Athlete of the Century” by the IAAF.

The EOA is inspired by Fanny Blankers-Koen, for not only being an exceptional Olympic athlete, but for also single handily removing the belief that age and motherhood are barriers to being a successful athlete. We honour her as the Olympic Person of the Month in June for her mark on women’s sport and the Olympic community as a whole!

Go back to all Olympic Person of the Month portraits.