Wednesday, 11 July 2012

She's A London Thing No.77: Fanny Blankers-Koen

It’s a London Thing is our Wednesday series in which we turn the spotlight on a unique aspect of London – perhaps a curious shop, sometimes an eccentric restaurant, a hidden place, book or oddity. The subject matter will be different every week. The running theme, however, will remain constant: you have to come to London to enjoy it. It’s A London Thing.

Fanny Blankers-Koen. She’s A London Thing

At the London Olympic Games of 1948 – nicknamed the “Ration Book Games” due to the straitened post-war climate in which they were staged – 30-year-old Dutchwoman Fanny Blankers-Koen (1918 – 2004) won her country’s first track and field gold since the start of the modern Games in 1896.

She took the tape in the 100m, 200m and 80m hurdles and won team gold in the 4x100m relay. The British coach Jack Crump was joined by a chorus of disapproving journalists in the build up to the Games in questioning Mrs Blankers-Koen’s age. “She is too old,” claimed Crump, “to make the grade.”

Despite having beaten three British women athletes into silver medal positions to take her individual golds, Blankers-Koen was taken to the hearts of the London crowd having endured the Nazi occupation of Holland.

It later emerged that she had been pregnant with her third child while winning her medals. In stark contrast to the rewards on offer to sportsmen and women today, when she returned to Holland she was presented with a free bicycle from the city of Amsterdam.

In 1948 she was dubbed “the Flying Housewife”. In 1999 Blankers-Koen was voted "Female Athlete of the Century" by the International Association of Athletics Federations.

We loved her here in London in 1948. And we love her still. She is forever a London Thing.


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