Fanny Blankers-Koen

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Francina "Fanny" Elsje Blankers-Koen (26 April 1918(1918-04-26) – 25 January 2004(2004-01-25) (aged 85)) was a Dutch athlete, best known for winning four gold medals at the 1948 Summer Olympics in London. She accomplished this as a 30 year old mother of two, during a time when many disregarded women's athletics. Her background and performances earned her the nickname "the Flying Housewife."

Having started competing in athletics in 1935, she took part in the 1936 Summer Olympics a year later. Although international competition was hampered by World War II, Blankers-Koen set several world records during that period, in events as diverse as the long jump, the high jump, and sprint and hurdling events.

Apart from her four Olympic titles, she won five European titles and 58 Dutch championships, and set or tied 12 world records - the last, pentathlon, in 1951 aged 33. She retired from athletics in 1955, after which she became captain of the Dutch female track and field team. In 1999, she was voted "Female Athlete of the Century" by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).

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Early life

Blankers-Koen was born Francina Elsje Koen on 26 April 1918 in Lage Vuursche (near Baarn) to Arnoldus and Helena Koen. Her father was a government official who competed in the shot put and discus.[1] She had five brothers.[1] As a teenager, she enjoyed tennis, swimming, gymnastics, ice skating, fencing and running. Standing 5 ft 6 in (1.68 m), she was a natural athlete. It soon became clear she was a sports talent, but she could not decide which sport to pick. A swimming coach advised her to do track because there were already several top swimmers in the Netherlands at that time (such as Rie Mastenbroek), and she would have a better chance to qualify for the Olympics in a track event.

Her first appearance in the sport was in 1935, aged 17.[2] Her first competition was a disappointment, but in her third race, she set a national record in the 800 m. Fanny Koen soon made the Dutch team, although as a sprinter, not a middle distance runner. At that time, 800 m was generally considered too physically demanding for female contestants, and had been removed from the Olympic programme after 1928.[1] The following year, her coach and future husband, Jan Blankers, a former Olympic triple-jumper, encouraged her to enter the trials for the 1936 Olympic in Berlin.[2] Only eighteen years old, she was selected to compete in the high jump and the 4 × 100 m relay.

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