Fanny Blankers-Koen in 1999 with her Athlete of the Century award (© Getty Images)
The world’s greatest ever female athlete Fanny Blankers-Koen of the Netherlands died this morning, Sunday 25 January, at the age of 85.
“The IAAF is very sad to receive the news of Fanny Blankers-Koen’s death,” commented IAAF President Lamine Diack. “The whole Athletics world mourns the parting of this great ambassador for our sport whose career feats have yet to be matched, a fact which was reflected in her election in 1999 as the greatest female athlete of the 20th century.”
In a glittering ceremony at the World Athletics Gala in November 1999, Fanny Blankers-Koen along with Carl Lewis (USA) received the awards as the top athletes of the 20th century, reflecting a outstanding career of success on the track.
Fanny Blankers-Koen will be chiefly remembered for winning four gold medals in the same Games. Blankers-Koen, won the 80m Hurdles, the 100m, the 200m and the 4x100m at the 1948 Games in London.
As modest as she was talented, at the ceremony in 1999, the then 81 year-old Blankers-Koen reacted with astonishment when congratulated on her achievement. "You mean it is me who has won. I had no idea! When I think of all the great women athletes of this century, and the young people who are doing so well, I must say that I am surprised … but quite pleased as well! I can still remember every detail of every heat and final in London. Thankfully, my memories are still very vivid."
Born on 26 April 1918, her funeral will take place next Thursday.
Short Biography -
Fanny (Francisca) Blankers-Koen of Holland was the first Queen of women's athletics. Born in Amsterdam in 1918, she made her first appearance in the Olympics in 1936, aged 18, finishing fifth equal in the High Jump and outright fifth in the 4x100m relay. She was then deprived of two Olympic chances as World War II wiped out the 1940 and 1944 Games.
However, she made up for that in the 1948 Games in London, winning no less than four gold medals: 100 and 200m, 80m Hurdles and 4x100m relay. By then 30 and a mother of two, Fanny competed eleven times (heats and finals) in the space of eight days - and never lost.
She thus became the female equivalent of Jesse Owens, who won exactly as many events in Berlin twelve years before. Throughout that memorable campaign at Wembley Stadium, Fanny was extended only twice, first in the Hurdles by Maureen Gardner of Great Britain, who was also coached by Fanny's husband, former triple jumper Jan Blankers; then in the sprint relay when she had to make up a huge deficit on the anchor leg.
Upon her return to Amsterdam, Fanny was treated to a large parade. Seated with her husband in an open coach drawn by four white horses, she was mildly bemused by the general excitement. She kept saying: "All I did was win some foot races."
During her career, which spanned nearly two decades, Fanny set a range of World records covering flat sprint and Hurdles, High Jump and Long Jump, as well as the Pentathlon. She also won five European titles.