Fanny Blankers-Koen, “an unexpected athlete” who made history in the Olympic games, competing for the Netherlands, is the subject of a Google Doodle honoring her 100th birthday.
“On a rainy summer day in 1948, onlookers at London’s Wembley track saw an unexpected athlete make history. Dutch runner and 30-year-old mother of two Fanny Blankers-Koen outstrided her opponents in the women’s 200m by 0.7 seconds—the highest margin in Olympics 200m history and a record that still stands today,” Google reported.
Blankers-Koen’s accomplishments “flattened stereotypes of female athletes at the time,” Google noted, adding that she was dubbed “The Flying Housewife.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Blankers-Koen was Born in the Netherlands & Set a National Record By Age 17
It didn’t take long for Blankers-Koen to enter the record books in her home country of the Netherlands. According to Google, she was born there, near Baarn, in 1918. “Blankers-Koen had set a national record for the women’s 800m by age 17,” Google reported. Her birth name was Francina Elsje Koen.
“At 18, she competed in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, placing fifth in the 4x100m and sixth in high jump.”
She was surrounded by males growing up as the only daughter in a family of six children. “As a teenager she took to tennis, swimming, gymnastics, ice skating and fencing but picked running as her main sport after a swimming coach suggested that would be the best way to excel,” UK Mirror reported.
Smithsonian.com reports she was described as “shy, towering, drably domesticated” straw-blonde mother of a 7-year-old son and a 2-year-old daughter who talked of how she liked cooking and housekeeping. She also won four gold medals in track and field and became ‘as well known to Olympic patrons as King George of England.’”
Blankers-Koen’s father was a well-off government inspector.
2. Some People Argued Blankers-Koen Should Stay Home Because She Was a Mother
Blankers-Koen faced many obstacles in her athletic career; among them, gender discrimination. One reporter noted she “fled through her trial heats as though racing to the kitchen to rescue a batch of burning biscuits.”
“After the 1940 and 1944 Olympics were canceled, many thought Blankers-Koen would never make another Olympics. When she declared her intentions to compete in the 1948 London Games, she received letters from many criticizing her for continuing to race despite being a mother and insisting she stay home,” Google noted.
Undaunted, Blankers-Koen pointed at a critic and said, “I’ll show you” before doing just that, according to Olympic.org. “I got very many bad letters, people writing that I must stay home with my children and that I should not be allowed to run on a track with – how do you say it? – short trousers,” she once told The New York Times.
3. Blankers-Koen Became the First Woman to Win Four Gold Medals in an Olympics
Blankers-Koen didn’t listen to the critics; instead she got even better. You can watch video from the 1948 Olympics here:
“She captured four golds during the 1948 London Games, winning the 100m, 80m hurdles, 200m, and 4x100m relay to become the first woman to win four medals in a single Olympics,” Google reported. “Her quick feet didn’t just set records.”
4. Blankers-Koen Married Her Coach
Blankers-Koen found love with someone who understood her athletics career: Her coach. “She married her coach, Jan Blankers, in 1940,” reported Brittanica.
According to Olympic.org, at one point during the Olympics, Blankers-Koen wanted to return home, but her husband talked her out of it, and she went on to win more medals.
She is considered one of history’s greatest Olympians ever.
5. Blankers-Koen Won 12 World Records
Blankers-Koen is in the record books. The Mirror called her “One of the most decorated women athletes of all time” and noted that she once held 12 world records during her time as an athlete.
She was once voted the 20th century’s best athlete, however.