THE WAR deprived numerous sportsmen and women of what should have been their best years, and by the time of the 1948 Olympic Games in London the Dutch athlete Fanny Blankers-Koen was 30, a housewife and mother.

THE WAR deprived numerous sportsmen and women of what should have been their best years, and by the time of the 1948 Olympic Games in London the Dutch athlete Fanny Blankers-Koen was 30, a housewife and mother.

She had been sixth equal in the 1936 Olympic high jump and had competed in the European Championships of 1938, but it was not until after the war that she became the most successful and famous woman athlete in the world. By the time of the Olympics in London she could have been just another veteran who had missed out on abandoned big events. In fact she had never stopped competing in Holland. Indeed she held the world records for the 100 yards and both the long and high jump. She elected not to compete in either of the jumping events in London only because she was pregnant.

Shortly before the 1948 Games she took the 80m hurdles world record, so she was clearly in outstanding form. Yet she was still underestimated. In all she broke the tape 11 times and won four gold medals (100m, 200m, 80m hurdles and 4 x 100m relay). The two sprints she won comfortably, but the hurdles event was more difficult. However, her multi-gold medal achievement did much to change attitudes towards women's athletics. Until then it had always been seen as an inferior aspect of the sport.

Her main rival in the hurdles was a British athlete, Maureen Gardner, who after struggling to qualify for the final had been given little chance of a medal. But she got a good start and led until the sixth flight. They crossed the line together and were both given the time of 11.2sec (an Olympic record). Blankers-Koen was awarded victory on the evidence of the camera.

In the relay she ran a superb anchor leg and took the lead only with her last stride ahead of Joyce King, of Australia. Although she undoubtedly knew that had she entered she would also have won a gold medal in the long jump, which was won with a leap two feet short of her world record, the physical and emotional strain of competing in four events was exhausting enough.

She was coached by her husband, Jan Blankers, and her career record between 1938 and 1955 shows that she set 12 world records in seven different events and won 58 Dutch titles. Her last Olympics was in 1952 but she was unwell. At 37,in 1955, she ended her international career as Holland's shot put champion, yet just a year later in a minor event she recorded a wind-assisted time of 11.3sec for the hurdles.

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